Found this image in a Colorado College scrapbook while looking for something else.
Guest Blogger: Dani Looney
With all the talk in the mystery world about Boucher-con, Marilyn thought it would be a good idea (which she may later regret) to let me be a guest blogger and write about my experiences at New York Comic Con.
In the beginning, comic conventions were pretty much just for comics. Buying and selling them, sharing the art, and premiering new story arcs. Over time though, these conventions have become something much bigger. Not only are they celebrating comics, but now they include a wide range of media. Movies, television, books, and video games are all included under the umbrella of a comic convention. Since it is now cool to be a “geek” and with the growing number of superhero movies, the explosion of gaming culture and the popularity of shows like “The Big Bang Theory”, Comic Con has become a 4 day extravaganza of all things “nerd”. There are plenty of panels, screenings, games, vendors, and celebrities to draw even the most introverted of us out into public. Those running the show very quickly figured out that the quickest way to our hearts was to offer us a chance to buy merchandise from our favorite shows, and also offer us a chance to discuss and find out more about the things we loved.
As an avid reader and as a fan of things including, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Marvel, etc., Comic Con allows me 3 days of non-stop fun. Not only do I get a chance to meet some of the actors portraying my favorite characters, like Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch last year, but I am also surrounded by other who enjoy these things and who are just as enthusiastic as I am. Most of us have created cosplays, costumes, of our favorite characters, and quite a few attendees put some serious time and effort into these costumes. The creativity that attendees put into their cosplays can be seen in what they can come up with. Just this year, I saw a man dressed as the many characters Johnny Depp has played, as well as quite a few gender bends of male characters. We all praise each other’s creativity, take pictures, and discuss our loves without fear or worry of others thinking we are “obsessive” or “crazy” or “too involved” (and those are some of the kinder things said). It is easy to find friends while waiting in line for a panel and begin sharing theories over what the next series of Sherlock will be like, or how we are enjoying the newest regeneration of the Doctor. Overall con going is a very enjoyable experience and the people in charge are continually trying to make things better. This year there was even a new harassment policy about how cosplay is not consent. This was a very welcome reminder that just because someone is dressed up, no matter how scantily, that it is not okay to just touch and take pictures of them. As a woman, I was very appreciative of this new policy, and how it was a reminder to people that asking before touching is a good thing.
Now to get to the best part of Comic Con for me: the books. Since attendance this year topped 150,000+ people a day, publishers were ready with new releases and lots of new authors. I found myself circling the few book aisles and chatting with the people working the booths. Many times I was friendly and polite enough to snag some free ARCs. There were also buttons, stickers, book samplers, and tote bags just being given away as you walked past a booth. In total, I think I walked away with eight to ten books and around six of those were free. Some of the free books being given away were part of a signing that was going on. I was able to meet fantasy writing veteran Robin Hobb, who was happy to hear about the independent book store I worked in and that they were still around. Many new authors were also in attendance and were encouraged to see how busy the publishing booths could get and how many readers were out there and wanting to take a chance on a new author. The best part of these booths was the people working them. Their enthusiasm for books and authors was contagious and I really loved being able to share my own love of books with them. Many of them were very encouraged at seeing how many people stopped at their booths to ask about new releases and their favorite authors. I garnered quite a few compliments on my own female Percy Jackson cosplay, which then of course led to discussions of what we all thought of the last book in the Heroes of Olympus series, as well as a few cries of, “No spoilers! I haven’t finished yet.”
Books were not only just available on the main floor, but this year there were quite a few literary panels that were incredibly interesting to go to. There were panels for young adult readers, Doctor Who fans, ones for fantasy fans, and ones for fans of any kind of books. Some of my favorites were, “Damsels in Distress Need Not Apply” and “How Game of Thrones Changed Fantasy, or Did It?” . All of these panels featured authors talking and discussing different subjects. A big topic of many of the panels was the representation of female characters. It was very refreshing to see authors really looking at how women are presented in books, especially these genres where it’s easy to make them damsels who do nothing but be rescued. Many authors are noticing that a good portion of their fan base is female and is craving unique strong female characters, and they are actively trying to give us these characters. Marvel is really trying to show that comics are not just for boys anymore and have been trying to really incorporate more female heroes, including a new incarnation of Thor where a woman is worthy of the Mjolnir as well as separate arcs for characters like Black Widow and Captain Marvel. No longer are they in skimpy costumes and armor that only covers the “important” bits, but they are taking charge and showing everyone that they are just as capable as any of the male superheroes out there.
Sadly, Comic Con is now over. I had a blast and would not change a thing. After some great panels, a few autographs, numerous lines, a few hugs for a fallen Castiel, and one very damp day as Han Solo, you would think I’d be bone tired and very sore, and truthfully I very much am. Carrying around multiple tote bags, early mornings, and lots of walking have left me very exhausted. There are two things I know for sure though; I don't regret a single bit of it, and I cannot wait for next year.
As an acquiring editor, I am like any other reader - I often fall in love with the books I read. Ok, sometimes it's just serious like and not love, but that is ok because it still works. For me to pursue a book deal, I have to feel some passion about the manuscript, otherwise I don’t give it the full attention it deserves.
Today I have two manuscripts sitting on my desk that I love. The problem – I don’t know how to market them. The first project involves some fantasy elements, and isn’t a strong mystery, but I am pretty confident that can be enhanced. The other involves a strong sci-fi element.
My dilemma is much like what Josh talked about earlier this week. It’s not a question of the market being saturated, or a trend ending – it’s all about will the book sell? For Josh, can he sell it to a publisher, and for the publisher, can we sell it to the consumer. I do much of what Josh does - I research the market, looking for comparable titles. We want something unique and original, yet it can’t be too different! The sales department wants to be able to say –“if you love (insert big name author or book here), then you need to read (insert name of debut author and title here).” Or, “this book by (author) is if (big name author) and (another big name author) had a love child.” Even Library Journal and Publishers Weekly will say “this book is for fans of (big name author).”
A few times I have had to pass on a book that I loved because I couldn’t confidently find the market. Or it was a bit too far outside our wheelhouse. To me, that is quite upsetting, because I do love the stories I publish. Yet at the end of the day, publishing is a business, and I have to bring in books I love, but also have the potential for commercial success.
As for the two manuscripts on my desk right now, I am pretty sure I will pursue both. I have more research to do, but my gut feeling is that both could do very well. Now, if I can just get through nine more launch meetings and sales conference before Oct. 28th! (I bet you all are clamoring for my job right now.)
Have a great week y’all! I hope you all open a book this week and you fall head over heels in love with it.
This time tomorrow I’ll be on the road in the company of my husband and my 92-year-old mother, on a trip down Memory Lane.
These trips seem to have become annual; the first happened three years ago, and my mother said it would be her last journey which took her away from home overnight, but somehow this is the fourth time. My family’s roots are in south Wales, (which for the benefit of American blog-followers who haven’t studied much British geography is NOT part of England!) and my mother still speaks fluent Welsh and attends a Welsh church close to her home in the English town she has lived in for 60 years! A huge amount has changed in those years, in both Wales and England, but it always surprises me to find how much is the same. My mother isn’t given to talking about her past, but an interesting part of these visits we make is getting her take on the things that have changed in the places she grew up in, and the things that haven’t.
And, in the way these things go, heading off down Memory Lane set a tangential train of thought in motion. When I taught creative writing classes, an exercise I used to give my students to fire up their imaginations was this: write a brief account of something significant that happened to you in the past – then write an account of the same incident, but viewing it from the point of view of someone else who was involved.
The exercise was only part of the process. The objective was to open their eyes to the way fiction draws on reality, and how memories play a large part in building a story. Tangential trains of thought again! The memories are often recent ones; every writer I’ve ever met stores away details for future use. I was in touch with an author recently, who described travelling around Europe on a promotion tour for his first novel – and finding himself with time to spare to look round a city, which turned into the main location for his next novel.
I’ve done it myself, too many times to count. A memorable holiday, or any kind of visit to a new place can fire up all kinds of synapses; meeting someone who made an impression on me sets up a whole raft of ‘what if?...’ questions.
Writing fiction is an imaginative process; of course it is – writing crime fiction especially. It plumbs some pretty dark depths of one’s inner self, and only the tiniest proportion of crime writers have actual experience on which to base the creative process. But imagination is extrapolative; it has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere lies in the memory.
My own forthcoming trip down Memory Lane will be brief and filled with family time – but I’m still wondering which synapses will be fired, and who I might encounter to generate those ‘what ifs...’
Watch this space.
Recently a number of my agent colleagues and I were discussing whether it’s worth even saying that we would look at young adult novels that are self-described in the query letter as “dystopic.” Dystopic is, at this point, a signifier for “any theme that’s been popular for a long time, been successful, and now is so saturating the market that an editor’s eyes roll back in their heads before the third syllable.” “Vampire” was the “dystopic” of four years ago, and “wizard” of four years before that.
It brings on an interesting thought process, and one that we deal with regularly: When a theme is popular but well-represented, do you keep evaluating submissions, hoping to find something different, or better, or unique? Or is that a waste of time? Do I look at ANOTHER thriller that feels like a rewrite of Jack Reacher or Da Vinci Code in the hope that a particular editor hasn’t found his best-seller? And how do we even know that the time has passed?
This is one of those areas where we use the tools in our toolbox: experience, taste, and connections. We will ask our friends on the Buy Side over lunch or drinks, who at this point would rather see the 125th knockoff of Fault in our Stars than another Hunger Games. We ask our agent colleagues whether they are having any luck (not with debut YA dystopia for the past couple of years by and large). And then we look at the queries themselves. Does this feel utterly familiar? Is this loner ex-Seal Team 6 back home in Western PA bringing anything new to the table? Is the writing undeniable? Is it worth spending the next six months whipping it into shape for the hope that one editor at one imprint hasn’t found that one special novel after 900 passes.
And then we take a deep breath, email the author, and say “Any way you can put it in space and call it science fiction? Add some sex and call it New Adult? Kill someone mysteriously and call it a cozy?”
And hope for the best.
Note: For an update on the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE, see below. You'll want to read this.
Seriously: Have I ever given you any indication that I know how to get thousands of people to look at a blog piece? On a good day, I get 200 people to visit here.
You're a little ticked off now, right? Think I misled you?
But marketing is a necessity to the author. (Don't ask, "The author of what?" Just go with it.) It's not about trickery and it's not about lying to the reader. Do those things and you might get someone to take a look. Once. What are you going to do now that you've annoyed them? What have you accomplished?
I can't claim to have the magical formula that will bring the thundering hordes to your blog post, your Facebook page, your web site or your front door. Anyone who tells you they know for sure is lying or mistaken. But I can tell you what certainly DOESN'T work, and I can say so with confidence, since I have tried each one and watched it fail in a spectacular fashion.
This week's reminder: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is now extended to this Wednesday, October 15! Before then, buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen and take a photo of yourself with the book (or title page of the ebook). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter for all (especially me, so tag me on it) to see. For everyone who does that on I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism SPectrum Education Network, and our own Josh Getzler's HSG Agency will match the donation. And our own Terri Bischoff's Midnight Ink will match THAT donation. And our very own Marilyn Thiele will add $1 each, to bring the total to $10 per picture! That pledge is good for the first 100 people to post--be one of them!
Also: I'll be at the Barnes & Noble in East Brunswick, NJ on Tuesday (Oct. 14) at 7 p.m., talking (because try and get me to stop), signing and taking MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE pictures with anyone who has a copy of the book. Come by if you can--Cathy Genna of the B&N there really knows how to put on a show!
I got invited to Steamboat Springs, Colorado this week to give a presentation at the local public library. I was kinda dreading the four-hour drive each way, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. I listened to a new music, looked at the beautiful view, and enjoyed the hell out of the fact that none of the many traffic jams were northbound while I was northbound, nor southbound while I was southbound.
The presentation went well, the weather was perfect, I hiked five miles and saw an excellent waterfall, and then I found out that I'd be reimbursed at the official IRS rate of 56 cents per mile, so it feels like I made money on this deal!
What's the best work trip YOU ever went on?
As I read over the posts from the last week here on “Dead Guy,” a word jumped out at me from Jessy’s post last Sunday: “romance,” as in Anna Katharine Green’s preference for the term “criminal romance” over “detective novel.” I grabbed a copy of one of my favorite Victorian novels, and sure enough, my memory was correct. The book is The Moonstone: A Romance. Wherever you come out on who wrote the first detective novel (and the name of my mystery bookstore, “The Moonstone” makes my position obvious), Wilkie Collins has no claim on the first romance.
I did a little hasty research, realizing that having undergraduate and graduate degrees in English Literature does not mean I remember all that I learned. I was told once that education wasn’t learning facts, but learning where to find things, and I find some comfort in that statement. I must have known what I relearned just now. For those of you who, like me, get invitations to college reunions, are shocked by the anniversary to be celebrated, do a little mental math, and exclaim in dismay that it can’t be that long, I will summarize my findings.
Disclaimer: This is a very quick summary, not a dissertation. I skipped a lot!
The term “romance languages” refers to those modern languages derived from Latin, but the “vulgar” Latin of the common people. The “romance” literature of the Middle Ages consisted of stories of adventure, knights, heroic deeds and marvelous incidents, written or recited for entertainment. (The modern French word for “novel” is “roman.”) The extension of the term “romance” to include a love story occurred in the mid-17th century. The evolution of the term to include any type of adventurous tale occurred in the early 19th century. The “romance novel” as we know it, referring almost exclusively to stories of love affairs, is a mid-20th century development.
The 19th century saw the growth of the novel into the dominant form of Western literature. Any good work of fiction has elements of suspense and adventure; it’s what keeps the reader turning pages. So why were some tales of adventure, mystery, or love subtitled “Romance” and others not? Why did Collins call The Moonstone a “romance” while his close friend Dickens, whose characters underwent a great deal of adventure, did not use the term? We can understand why the subtitle of Ivanhoe is also “A Romance.” But a detective novel?
The Moonstone, while primarily a tale of exposing the perpetrator of a theft and his motivation, includes an earlier theft of the same diamond from an idol in India during a military campaign and mysterious eastern men pursuing their property in England. There are elements of the supernatural in the legends surrounding the gem and eerie happenings that may be related to the original desecration of the idol. The atmosphere is often creepy; I still remember my first reading of the description of the quivering quicksand that ultimately swallows one character. These elements put the novel in the tradition of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, even though Sergeant Cuff is the forerunner of the classical detective. He collects real evidence, sizes up the credibility of witnesses, and searches for real motivation (follow the money!).
The novels of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and many other great 19th-century English novelists contained the “love” element, but they were primarily realistic, often critical, pictures of various levels of society, comparable to today’s “literary” fiction. The “romances” were comparable to our “genre” fiction. Alas, even then, there were those snobs who looked down on the good stuff.
I confess to not having read Anna Katharine Green, and Jessy’s posts have piqued my interest. Since Ms. Green preferred the term “criminal romance,” I wonder if there are elements of the romantic tradition in her work. The familiar elements of the detective novel that she introduced do not seem to have the same spooky, sinister flavor that Collins chose. Jessy?
October is a very busy month for me. This month I will have launch meetings for my Fall 2015 books. The launch is a big deal - at this meeting we decide the title and the cover direction of each book. We also discuss what the back cover should look like, decide on a series name if needed, and the "brand" or look we want to create. Super-duper important stuff. And the success of this meeting falls mostly on the shoulders of the acquiring editor. It's an interesting process and more than one person has asked how books are titled or where the covers come from.
My first step is reading the full manuscript or whatever materials I have. There are times when we have to launch a book before the manuscript is completed. In these cases it's imperative that the author and I have a good working relationship. Which leads me to my next step - I ask the author what they want. Most of the time the author and I are on the same page - we have similar ideas for covers and titles. Sometimes we are on opposite ends, though, and in those cases I have to go with my best judgment. (Those are pretty rare occurrence.)
After a conversation with the author, or sometimes concurrently, I start my research. I look for similar works already published - you can judge a book by it's cover in the crime fiction world. Cozies look like cozies. There is some variation, but a reader won't confuse an illustrated cozy cover for a photo-realistic psychological suspense. I create a set of notes that I send out to all those who attend the meeting. That includes - Publisher, Production Manager, Production Editor, Art Director, Cover Designer, Publicist, Sales and Marketing Manager, assorted Sales folks. And here are what my notes looked like for a book we launched yesterday:
I confess - for meeting the description of the novel was a lot longer, but I didn't want to give away too much! What is missing from this set of launch notes are comparable titles published by other houses. Because this is the fourth book we are doing with Catriona, we have a look already established. Our books with her are stand alones, so while we don't have a template, they do have a certain look/feel to them.
At the start of the meeting, we talk about the physical parts - trim size, whether we use an author photo or not, is there a pen name, etc. Then we get into the good stuff. First I give everyone a little more info about the book, a more detailed description, as well as if I am asking the author to make any major revisions or not. I will also add in any note- such as note worthy facts about the author or any previous books published either by us or others. Quite often sales will chime in on feedback they received from buyers. Then I offer the title the author and I have agreed on and we discuss... and discuss... and discuss... Sometimes it's super easy. We launched Jeff Cohen's second Asperger's book on Tuesday. He turned in his manuscript with the title - The Question of the Unfamiliar Husband. Everyone loved it. So we moved one. But for as many easy title decisions, there are just as many difficult discussions. From "I just don't like that" to "can it be a two word title?" There may be truth the rumor that our conference table has dents from me pounding my head a little too often.
The title and the cover design need to meld together. Sometimes it's helpful to table the title discussion and move to the cover design. Every launch meeting is different and has it's own life. There are some books where I ask the art dept to use the exact photo I have provided. There are some books where I give them some elements and I ask them to work them into a design. The latter is often the case for illustrated covers - I don't know why that is, other than the fact that we hire illustrators so it's important that they have some flexibility. It is very important that the cover designer gets what we need into a mocked up concept that we then send to the artist. In the case of Catriona's book, she and I both looked for images of bridges and we ended up with the selection above. Our cover designer builds the cover in house, so he and I can tweak it until we are all happy with the end design.
In all cases, with both title and cover design, the loudest voices in the room tend to be mine and sales. Between my experience as a bookseller and bookstore owner, and the immediate feedback the sales department gets from customers, we hopefully have the pulse on what trends are happening. For example, it was well over a year ago that skulls and crossbones seemed to start dropping off cozy mysteries. Previous to that, they were pretty commonplace on the vast majority of cozy books.
There are times when we need to just stop to the meeting and reschedule. And there are many times where we decide on a title and I am not in love with it. I will let it sit and eventually the author and I come up with a title we love. In those cases, we reschedule a meeting, or meet via email to approve the new title. If we have an issue on cover design, we always have a new meeting.
My role in the cover and title meeting is rather schizophrenic. I am representing the author in that meeting, but I am also representing the line. I may have to convince the author to accept a title or design that he or she doesn't love. I also have to choose my battles. It's unfortunate, but it's true. I would like to say that every book I publish is perfect - that I love the title or design. I can't quite say that, but over the last five years (I believe my five year anniversary at Midnight Ink is next week!) I have gotten a bit more... crankypants, one might say. I work tirelessly to make sure everything is a perfect as I can make it. It serves no one, not the author nor us as the publisher, to put out a book that isn't 100% fantastic.
Thanks for listening to my rambling! I hope this answers a few questions. I purposely left out any horror stories, the ones where I beat my head upon the table, but hey, catch me at a conference and I might just share a few. :) And I apologize for not posting last week. I was home sick. :(
See ya next week, folks! Drop me a line if there is anything about publishing you want answered!
Sorry to bail on you last week, blog-followers, but on the positive side it did mean you got another week of my good friend Chris Nickson, which had to be a bonus.
The reason I passed the baton was this: I sat at my desk, staring at the screen, for a good two hours, and the only thing that filled my head was... death. It’s still there, so this week I thought, what the heck, I’ll post about it.
No, I haven’t been given a terminal diagnosis, and nor, to my knowledge, has anyone among my friends and raletions (which is not a typo, in case you were wondering; look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t get it). It’s just that my working life, which is about half my waking hours at the moment, has seemed to revolve largely around the Grim Reaper for several weeks.
It began when the local paper, my main source of freelance writing, restyled its obituary pages, and I was asked to write a series of profiles of funeral directors. That dried up – there’s a limited supply in a relatively small area – and the feature slot morphed into aspects of death: different kinds of funeral, bereavement counselling, memorial headstones, you get the picture. That’s still going on, and has extended into more profiles, this time for another paper which covers an adjoining area and therefore has a whole new set of funeral directors.
So death, as Colin Dexter once put it, has been my neighbour for more weeks than I like to count.
And, being an avid reader of the most popular genre of book in existence, it’s never been far away when I stop work. OK, I eat, sleep and watch TV like normal people, even once in a while have something that passes for a social life, but when I’m not doing any of those things, and sometimes when I am (mainly eating – breakfast and reading happen at the same time most days) my other activity of choice is curling up with a good book. Which almost invariably means a gripping murder mystery.
In the midst of life we are in death, intones the Church of England’s (translation – Episcopalian) funeral service. Literally true in my case. Not just in mine, though. I’m not the only person whose working life consists of writing about the end-point of everyone’s existence. The very fact that I read about so much of it, and so does almost everyone I know, means that other people are writing about it too.
I have friends who write about it. I edit books by people who write about it. We surround ourselves with it, research ways for it to happen, set fictional sleuths the task of investigating it. Heck, I even watch TV dramas about it – don’t you?
By rights, you might think, I should be deeply depressed, and so should almost everyone I know – see above. I don’t know about you, but I’m... not. I’m quite a cheerful, positive person by nature. And crime writers (crime in fiction almost invariably means murder), at least the many I’ve encountered in person, rank pretty high on the scale of nice guys. (And women. Mostly women, I have to say. Why is that, I wonder?)
I do get depressed, or more often angry, but more about the state of the living world than what may or may not come afterwards, which I can’t do anything about anyway.
(What’s that prayer? God give me the strength to change what I can change, the patience to bear what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.) Maybe surrounding myself with all this death makes me better able to appreciate life.
PS Jeff, Josh, Terri, good luck with the Missing Head charity appeal. I can’t easily join in without invoking the dreaded A*****, but I promise I’ll buy the book next time I’m in the USA. And once I figure out a way to give the charity more than I’d have to give the bank to get the money overseas, I’ll make a contribution to ASPEN myself.
As readers of this blog doubtlessly know, Wednesday is Pub Day for Jeff Cohen and his VERY CLOSE FRIEND EJ Copperman’s first (official) collaboration, The Question of the Missing Head. As you may also know, but I will reiterate it, this is a Dead Guy Family Affair, where Monday, Tuesday and Thursday Dead Folk are all involved in our respective roles. But the other thing that we are collaborating on is raising money for autism charity Aspen. As Jeff said yesterday,
The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGEwill see to it that for every person who posts a picture of themselves on Wednesday holding THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD in some form, $9 will be donated to ASPEN, and it won’t be your $9, but you can claim responsibility for it.
The $9 comes from matching three dollar donations from Jeff and EJ, Terri’s folks over at Midnight Ink, and my agency, Hannigan Salky Getzler. Please take photos and send them in.
But that’s not all! Midnight Ink, bucking the Tuesday publication day trend of many other publishers, instead releases its books on Wednesdays! So tomorrow is also the pub day for two other Midnight Ink offerings that are very dear to my heart: Linda Joffe Hull’s second Mrs. Frugalicious mystery, BLACK THURSDAY, and Sheila Webster Boneham’s third Animals in Focus mystery, CATWALK.
OK, so I’m hugely prejudiced here, since I’ve worked with these authors for an awfully long time. But I have to say, it’s a terrific bunch of books. All different, but all within the same basic area of mystery where you learn something—whether about how a 20-something guy with Asperger’s thinks, or certain secrets about saving money, or about feline agility trials. All eclectic, all interesting, all good reads, all with mysteries that work, because these writers are skilled . Buy them all (Terri would certainly agree), and Enjoy!
Not to belabor the point, but the fact is that THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD , the first Asperger’s Mystery from Midnight Ink, will be published Wednesday, and you should buy it. In order to better entice you to do so, please consider the following list of dire consequences that might—just might—occur if you choose to skip this book and wait for the movie.
Quick side note: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is set for Wednesday, the publishing day for THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Take a picture of yourself with the book or the title page on your e-reader and post it. For everyone who does on Wednesday, $9 will be donated to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN) helping families touched by autism spectrum disorders. So don't forget to post that photo!
But hey, no pressure.
On the other hand, here are a few things that might happen if you do buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD this Wednesday (or even now on your e-reader!):
Benefits of Buying the Book
So there you have it: Scientific evidence that you should buy and read THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Do you want to argue with Science?
Last week I was so excited about Anna Katherine Green that I left out an important codicil: she was the first American to write a mystery novel, not the first earthling. I apologize. Thanks, Esau Katz, for pointing this out. And thanks, Josh Getzler, for not pointing out that you'd already pointed this out on an earlier post.
According to Marie T. Farr's entry on her in American Women Prose Writers, 1870-1920 (Dictionary of Literary Biography volume 221), Green disliked the term "detective novel" and preferred "criminal romance." Farr references Alma Murch's "The Development of the Detective Novel" (1958), which claims that Green introduced a number of detective story tropes, including the series detective, the "rich old man, killed when on the point of signing a new will; the body in the library; the dignified butler with his well-trained staff; detailed medical evidence as to the cause and estimated time of death," and more. This suggests that without Green, we wouldn't have the name of this blog!
She's even the one who first came up with the idea of an icicle as a murder weapon in her 1911 novel Initials Only.
"Ralphie, you're lucky it didn't cut your eye! Those icicles have been known to kill people."
by Erin Mitchell
I’ll say what we’re all thinking: October? Really? How did that happen? And when did stores start putting out Christmas stuff so damn early?
Ok. Now that that’s done with…
1. In case you missed it, Jeff Cohen has a new book out, called THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. As part of the launch, he did a wonderful campaign (read about it here) to benefit ASPEN, the Autism Spectrum Education Network. If you’re not familiar with Jeff’s books and ASPEN, please get to know both.
2. Do you know what a bonkbuster is? Neither did I until Laura Lippman educated me (don’t get any weird ideas—she used the term on a panel). I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with Rebecca Chance’s books (I have the most wonderful clients)—some of you might know her as Lauren Henderson. Rebecca’s books will finally be available in the US next week, so keep an eye out!
3. Do you have plans on October 25? I hope they include the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading. Every year, books editor extraordinaire Colette Bancroft assembles an amazing bunch of authors in St. Petersburg, Florida for this event. This year’s group includes Lisa Unger, Michael Kortya, Ace Atkins, Robert Olen Butler, Tim Dorsey, Paul (P.L.) Gaus, Carl Hiaasen, R.L. Stine…there are more, but you get the idea. You really should join us!
That’s it for today. Have a great weekend.
As Lynne is unfortunately preoccupied this week, she asked me to step in once more, so forgive the intrusion.
A few years ago, authors never needed to worry about publicity (well, so I believe). The publisher would handle that side of things. These days, of course, the paradigm has changed, and even most of those published by the big houses have to handle their own publicity, unless you’re a major name.
As a writer, I’m very active on social media. Twitter and Facebook are my friends, and I also have a Facebook author page. Of course I have a website, and I tend to blog a couple of times a week. I do author events, libraries and wherever I can. For my most recent book I had bookmarks printed up to give away at events. Cheap but effective, and definitely useful.
But I’m in search of other ideas. It goes without saying (I hope) that most of my Twitter and Facebook activity is interaction rather than blatant promotion. That’s just sensible. Social media is about building a community, and communities need interaction to grow. Become a real person to others and they’ll be interested in you and what you do.
A readership is built one person at a time, and word of mouth is still one of the most powerful tools. People like your book and recommend it to others. As you build a back catalogue, people will search out the books, especially in a series.
Of course, there are some big breaks. An interview in a prestigious magazine, a review by an influential blogger, things like that. They all help in circulating the name.
What I’m curious to learn is what you think are good promotion techniques. There must be many I haven’t considered, and I’m eager to hear. Especially if they cost little or nothing.
Right, the ball’s in your court.
Thanks to everyone for your good wishes while I was out with the shoulder surgery. Still barking a bit after two weeks, and I've got an I-Can't-Shave beard going and am still sleeping upright on the couch. But getting there. Thanks to Danielle Burby and Todd Moss for posting the past two weeks.
One of the more exciting things that happened in the past month is that Book Culture, an independent bookstore that lost its lease uptown, announced that it was reopening in one of the retail spaces below my apartment building. And instead of putting up the usual brown butcher's paper to cover the windows during renovation, they put up a happy sign telling the story of the return of a bookstore to the former site of an older store, Endicott Books, which was one of the inspirations for You've Got Mail.
This weekend, my wife and I were taking a walk and saw that there were a bunch of brightly colored stickies on the window of the store. Turns out that an anonymous Upper West Sider decided to create an Old School Pinterest board and put out a bunch of sticky pads and Sharpies and asked the neighbors to write notes about the new store, take photos, and post on Twitter with #BOOKCULTURE. And they did. And the neighborhood is truly giddy. More next week, but here are a couple of very happy pictures.
For those of you who've been asking, yes, THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD is indeed going to be available as an ebook for virtually any reader you own. The big e-book sites should now have it listed. Sorry for the delay.
Also: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is growing! Take a picture of yourself with your copy (or the title page on your e-reader) and post it on Twitter or Facebook. For the first 100 people who do so on publication day October 8, I'll donate $3--to be matched by Josh's HSG Agency--to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN). A little over a week to go!
And I'm told that our very own Terri's Midnight Ink, which is publishing THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD will also match the donation, so make sure you get a book on October 8 and post that picture--you'll be donating $9 to ASPEN without spending an extra dime!
An Author's Journey
Did you know that the author of the first first American detective novel was a woman, Anna Katharine Green?
No, I'm not saying the first woman author of a detective novel was Anna Katharine Green. I'm saying that the first author of a detective novel was Anna Katharine Green, a woman.
Shouldn't we have heard of her before? Why haven't we heard of her?! Is it because of the patriarchy? Is it because her books aren't widely read any more? Bit of both, I'm guessing, but let's look into it.
She was born in 1846 and published The Leavenworth Case, the first detective novel EVER by ANYONE anyone in America, in 1878. You can download the full text of the novel from the Gutenberg Project for free.
More next week.
I try to stay away from all those quizzes on Facebook. I don’t really need to know which fantasy character I am or what my career should be (I think it’s a little late for another change at this point). But I can’t resist the ones that give me a chance to show how smart I am. Of course, I’m selective. After all, I want to reinforce my self-image (matching authors to titles, vocabulary), not be reminded of what I don’t know (music, art, film). Recently a lot of Geography quizzes have come across my news feed, shared by high school friends, who also are happily reassured that our faculties are not failing yet. We had to study Geography as a separate class for an entire year (7th grade), and although a lot has changed since then, the states and capitals are still the same, as are the locations of continents. We also were taught to read newspapers and magazines for information and to place on a mental map the area under discussion. Thus, I believe our training has allowed us to keep up with the moving boundaries and changing names, despite the media’s efforts to eliminate such extraneous information in favor of celebrity updates.
I plan at some future date to rant about examples of why it is no longer a rational idea to tell young readers to peruse news, printed or on-line, in order to improve vocabulary and grammar. For now, my thoughts are back in those golden years of primary and secondary education. Remember that separate class in “Civics”? We learned how the government works. Of course, now that we are older we know how it REALLY works, but at least we understand the ideal. When asked the three branches of government, my classmates and I are not likely to respond, “Police Department, Fire Department, and Post Office,” one current student’s answer.
Geography, Civics, History: all now combined into “Social Studies,” and all given short shrift. At least the vestiges remain. The subject that is on the brink of extinction is Handwriting. No more circling with the clutched pencil, no more letters with fancy loops tacked above the blackboard, no more lined paper to show where the tops (and bottoms) of the letters should go. The handwritten report has yielded to the keyboard. The tortured hours spent obeying those lines, remembering where the loops went, correctly connecting the letters (I still can’t deal with “j” and “q”) did not create a society with lovely, legible penmanship. Everyone developed their own style, from flowing to chicken scratching. Or is it our own style? I have observed that my handwriting is amazingly like my father’s. My son’s is an almost an exact match for his father, who died before he was born. My husband tells me that his writing resembles that of one of his aunts’. Whether our penmanship is genetic or acquired, all those circles and worksheets had little impact on what our cursive writing looks like now.
Still, we learned cursive writing. Handwritten notes in class and handwritten reports were the norm, because there was no alternative. I remember getting extra credit for typewritten reports in high school, having been fortunate enough to be able to take a touch-typing class and to have been given a typewriter as a gift from my godfather. (One aside from this early feminist: The best piece of advice I was given upon graduation from college was never to admit that I could type. I would wind up with a typist’s job no matter what I was really hired to do. I kept my secret, but saw what happened to those who didn’t.)
Now “keyboarding” is a required subject, and students take notes on little tablets (but not with chalk!). The report is spell-checked, there are no “white-outs," and the printed form is required. The advantages are obvious: neater work, teachers who can focus on the content of the submission rather than trying to decipher it, students who can easily edit without rewriting pages and pages. However, the advantages of using the keyboard rather than the pen to take notes seem to be coming into question.
I have always enjoyed the physical act of writing and find myself at times copying quotations I want to remember in longhand rather than cutting and pasting or typing. The words seem to find a place in my brain when laboriously copied. I am an inveterate note taker and list maker. Once I have written something with pen and paper, it stays with me whether or not I ever look at the paper again. When notes or lists or dates are entered on the phone, it’s as if I never saw them. And I don’t have the discipline to rigorously check my little machine. I assumed that this was one of the many quirks of this odd, out-of-touch relic of a former time. Some recent research indicates that my “quirk” is the way the human mind works, and that the substitution of keyboards for pens in note-taking may not be one of the improvements technology has brought us.
An article in The Washington Post last April entitled “Why students using laptops learn less in class even when they really are taking notes” described studies showing that students typing notes were inclined to write verbatim what they heard, with the brain as a pass-through device between ear and hand. Those who took notes the slower, old-fashioned way, had to synthesize and summarize the information, picking up on key words and ideas, thus engaging parts of the brain beyond those needed for the mechanics of typing. In addition, those students frequently “recopied” their notes as a form of study, filling in what they were unable to get on paper the first time, thus reinforcing the information.
It would seem then that those who use electronic devices should slow down and use their brains in the same way as those writing in longhand. Easier said than done. Research subjects found it difficult if not impossible to stop typing verbatim notes, and other research has shown that the hand has a “unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas.” So my use of handwritten notes to implant information in my brain is not a quirk, but the way the human body is wired.
New technologies lead to the temptation to throw away the older methods which appear to be of no further use. Physical books seem (to some) no longer necessary. (You knew I’d get to that, didn’t you?) Teaching cursive writing has been belittled as a waste of time. It would be better to use the old and the new, each for the tasks to which they are best suited. Use the laptop for creating legible, well-edited papers and reports; but teach the young to write by hand so that they can use the full capacity of the brain. And maybe a little Geography and Civics wouldn’t hurt.
I love fall. The colors are beautiful, the bite in the air, pumpkins, Halloween, and football. If I didn’t live in an apartment, I would have a fire pit and spend weekend nights roasting marshmallows and drinking hot apple cider or hot chocolate. It’s the perfect weather for curling up with a book. Wait, what am I saying. Any time is a good time to curl up with a book.
Fall also means Bouchercon. This year it’s in being held in Long Beach, CA. I don’t know how the programs did it, but there are an insane number of panels. That had to be a nightmare to organize, but what amazing program they created. It is great to see so many authors represented. Heck, even I am on a panel! I am moderating a panel called Murder Most Ghostly and Paranormal and the panelists are Laura Benedict, Stephen Blackmoore, Sue Ann Jaffarian, and Margaret Lucke. I promise it will be fun. And if I can get my act together, prizes! J
For me at work, fall also means stress. I have sales conference for the Spring Summer 2015 catalog. At sales conference I present all the titles to the company. I give information about the book, the author, comparable titles, etc. I never know what questions might be thrown at me, so it’s slightly stressful, but it’s also fun. I generally speak from the cuff – my years as a bookseller and hand-selling books has paid off tremendously. October also brings launch meetings. I will launch 11 books in October. It takes me 2-3 hours to prepare for a launch meeting (and three days for the sales conference). But the largest chunk of my time – I have to read those 11 manuscripts before the launch meeting. Yep, it’s going to be a rough month!
But when it all winds down – there is Halloween. Halloween is a big deal here at Llewellyn/Midnight Ink. Each department dresses up in a theme and decorates their cubes/area. We bring in a whole bunch of food that goes with our theme. There are prizes for best department, best costume, and best food. It’s a bunch of great, silly fun. I won a few years ago for my Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume – yep, we were Ghostbusters. One year IT created the inside of a Star Trek ship in their row. It was amazing. It’s also very hush-hush. We try to spy on other departments to learn what everyone else is doing. I may or may not have left misleading, fake emails on the printer before…
And of course, fall means football. My Green Bay Packers have not started out too well this year. But as a native cheesehead, I will always have hope in Aaron Rodgers and the green and gold. We play the Bears this weekend. Since I grew up down by Madison, the Bears were reviled. I am sure it will tense and a nail biter. I am so looking forward to it! Hope you all are loving your fall as well.
I sort of drifted into freelancing when my daughter was very small, as a way of fitting work around motherhood, and after that it kind of... grew. Sometimes.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, but as all writers know, at least in the early stages it’s something you do as well as earning a living, running the home, being part of a family and network of friends etc etc – i.e. real life. It took me a decade or three – just over three, in fact – to realize that being able to put words together in a readable way was a marketable skill, and a while longer to convince other people that they should pay me for exercising it. Like most freelance and creative pursuits, success is relative, and can be as much a matter of making the right contacts as having the right ability.
But this isn’t the story of my life: just a lead-in to the situation I’ve found myself in over the past few weeks. Not that it only applies to the last few weeks; it’s the way things have been ever since I became established. Though, like success, that’s a relative term too.
I’ve returned to the freelance life since I came back from the dark side. Not that I abandoned it completely; running a small indie publishing house took up 90% of my time for seven years, but the remaining ten percent kept a few things ticking over, and actually generated another strand. And I soon discovered that a key factor of freelancing was still very much the case – it’s famine or feast, and there’s rarely a middle ground. I’ve never really minded, apart from the money factor; the famine times allow me to spend some time writing what I love best but sell least – fiction.
Before I went on holiday it was famine, and seemed set fair to become more so. The theatre reviewing which had been a cornerstone almost since I set out along the freelance road has almost come to an end; policy changes, budget cuts, whatever, at the local paper have taken care of that. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and similar advertising media (and that’s exactly what they are, whether or not they choose to admit it) seem to be the way to promote a freelance service these days, but for reasons more associated with human nature than technology they scare me to death and I refuse to use them, so my editorial consultancy only gathers clients by word of mouth, and is therefore thinner than it used to be.
Six weeks ago I was beginning to wonder if someone up there was telling me it was time to buckle down and get on with the novel-in-progress. There’s always a novel-in-progress. It was moving quite well a month ago.
Then, as it has so often in the past, everything changed, and our fortnight in France proved something of a watershed. I don’t take a laptop on holiday, don’t even possess any of the dinky little devices that let you borrow someone else’s wifi to check your e-mail, but my daughter can’t bear to be parted from hers, so for reasons unrelated to work I found myself checking mine a few times while we were away.
Three times, to be precise.
The first time, there was a request to write a series of weekly features for a newspaper. The second time, an editorial consultancy client (word of mouth recommendation still works) who had gone underground for a few months resurfaced. And the third time, a small publishing company I’ve dealt with several times asked me to edit the new book by one of my favourite authors.
Then, a couple of days after I arrived home, another newspaper put in a request for another series of features. And the editorial consultancy client submitted a hefty chunk of first-draft manuscript for early feedback. And there were three theatres for review in the diary, though they may prove to be the last. And the novel for editing was waiting.
So too is my own novel. I’ve had to put a couple of non-paying jobs on hold: an author profile I promised the editor of a small e-zine, and reading a friend’s short story. I will get to it, all of it; if I’ve learned one thing about the freelance life, it’s that you never turn work down and you always deliver. OK, two things.
And there’s always time for reading crime fiction. And blog posts.
This week I’m very pleased to welcome as guest Tuesday Dead Guy author Todd Moss, whose Golden Hour (Putnam) is available at all the usual outlets, plus airports, train stations, Costco, and think tanks everywhere. Todd has been let loose the past few weeks, following publication; but his experiences may have been slightly different from what either he or you might have expected.
I had no idea what to expect from the book tour for my debut thriller THE GOLDEN HOUR, released September 4th. I’d written several nonfiction books and had spoken in front of groups about foreign policy hundreds of times, but this was my first foray into fiction and certainly my first book tour. It’s been strange, nerve-wracking, and pretty cool all at the same time. Here’s what I think I’ve learned so far.
It’s okay to be excited. After all the hours alone in the office and alone in my head, the novel is now, finally, out there. And people who’ve heard about it, want to meet the author. I’ve been really struck at the number of friends (some I haven’t seen since high school!) who are both giddy and gracious about my first novel. Most haven’t even read it yet, yet it’s been tremendously gratifying and humbling to receive the flood of emails, Facebook messages, and even knocks on my front door. I’m a guy who normally shirks away from being the center of attention, so I’ve had to force myself to soak it all in, to take a few moments to just enjoy it. And even at 44 years old, it feels good to make your parents proud.
Yeah, no one knows you… yet. While friends and family have been pouring it on thick, no debut author has a fan base. This means any “book tour” sounds like a grand affair… but it’s not. I’d assumed that book signings would be at big box bookshops in cities like New York, Los Angeles, perhaps Atlanta and Chicago. Nope. After two launch events in my hometown of Washington DC, my publisher sent me to independent shops in Arizona and Texas. At first, I didn’t quite get it either. Then it was patiently explained what should have been obvious: “No one knows you yet. No one will show up, especially in the big crowded markets.” So instead, my stops have been specialty crime and thriller bookshops. Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale organized an intimate discussion about my book and, in an age of ISIS and Ebola, the role of America around the world. Murder by the Book in Houston hosted a reading and Q&A with around forty thriller fans. Just as importantly as these in-person events, both shops provided a marvelous platform for tapping into their enthusiastic reader networks. Even if you aren’t generating lines around the block, it’s still exhilarating to sign a tall stack of your own books! (Note from JG--This was the best photo we had--it was after Todd had already signed the tall stack, and folks were carrying their own copies to him by then. Because even better than signing the tall stack is SELLING OUT the tall stack...)
A modern tour is much more than bookshops. I keep hearing that the halcyon days oflarge crowds to meet authors are largely over for all but the most famous writers. So, in addition to a handful of select bookshop appearances, I’m talking about THE GOLDEN HOUR at lots of other venues that can draw interested crowds. Since my thriller revolves around a professor who works inside the U.S. Government, I’m speaking at colleges (Columbia, Pomona, Texas A&M, Tufts, Harvard) and related professional associations (World Affairs Councils, think tanks). I’m also promoting the book through radio, newspaper opeds, social media, and even a few TV shows. Each of these hits relatively small audiences, but they accumulate. These efforts, I hope, will build fan momentum for the next book… and maybe even a more ambitious second tour?
In the end, that’s the point: lots of small steps toward a fan base who will love your book, tell their friends, and (fingers crossed!) buy the sequel.
Todd Moss, senior fellow and COO at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC and the former top US diplomat for West Africa, is author of THE GOLDEN HOUR, the first in the Judd Ryker series from Penguin’s Putnam Books. Todd is represented by Josh Getzler.
Assuming you are not living on Jupiter, the news might have passed by your eyes and ears that Mr. Jeter, who is an employee of the New York Yankees, will retire, in every likelihood, late next Sunday, the 28th of September after a 20-year career with the firm.
Non-sports fans: I promise there will be some relevance beyond baseball statistics, but you'll have to bear with me.
My daughter and I went to see him ply his trade Friday night at his office, 161st St. and River Avenue in the Bronx, New York. While not the same office in which he began his illustrious career, it bears the same name: Yankee Stadium. And don't think for a moment we were there for any reason other than to pay our respects one last time.
He was as gracious a host as ever, helping to produce a win for the home team with two hits and some nice fielding plays. And he tried his best not to notice the fact that the crowd of more than 40,000 people gathered there had done so specifically to see him and not the rest of the team, since this has been a dismal season for the home squad, and the immediate future is better not considered at all because it will be like this, except without Derek Jeter.
I'm a lifelong Yankee fan and make no apologies. In my five decades of paying attention to this team, I have not seen a player as beloved as Jeter. I saw Mickey Mantle play in person, and he was basically a god in the sport. I lived through the bleak years and saw Don Mattingly as the only bright light on the dark horizon and he was adored in the fans' eyes. But neither of them was Derek Jeter.
In five years, give or take a few months, Derek Jeter will be in Cooperstown, New York to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That is not debatable; it will happen. And while his statistics in the sport are indeed impressive, he was never the flashiest player on the field. Many mediocre players hit more home runs. Even in his younger days there were those who questioned his fielding range. Now a group of statistics cultists explain how he's really not all that good a player.
They're wrong, but that's beside the point. Derek Jeter is the ultimate Yankee, the face of all Major League Baseball, because of his parents insistence from a very young age that he behave like a gentleman and be responsible all his life. He has not disgraced them, ever.
Dating supermodels, actresses and anybody else who might grace the cover of Maxim? Sure, he did that. Have a little practical joke fun with teammates, acquaintances, even reporters? Yeah, that was part of the deal with Jeter. Did he ever give an interesting interview? No. The answers were bland and information-free, and that led to zero scandals and no horrifying revelations. Did he let us in to see what the innermost Jeter was like? Sorry; that was for family and friends. Mostly family.
What Jeter gave the fans was his best effort, every single time. It's unfortunate that most players don't run as hard as they can on every ground ball, because they know they're going to be thrown out. Jeter ran every time. Every time.
In an era where sports news is a combination of police blotter, financial reporting and pharmacology, Derek Jeter (while making boatloads of money, let's be fair) has always been about the team first. He did what it took to win, and he won a lot. His statistics were secondary--the only thing that mattered was whether or not the game was a victory. A season without a World Series title was a failure. End of story.
Derek Jeter will retire universally respected throughout the world of sports. He will be given a ceremony Sunday to send him off in grand style, and he'll get it at Fenway Park, home of the Yankees' most bitter rivals. Expect the fans, who have booed Jeter for decades, to stand and cheer, and mean it.
If you are not a Yankee fan, a baseball fan or a sports fan but read this blog each week or (hopefully) each day for perspective on the publishing business, consider this: Once he retires, Derek Jeter could literally do anything he wants to do. Star in television and film? He could. He hosted Saturday Night Live some years ago and did not embarrass himself. Become a media mogul? Sure, it's possible.
Could he devote himself to charitable works? His Turn 2 Foundation has done a lot to help kids live healthy lives and turn away from drugs and gang violence in tough areas. Jeter could certainly make that his key focus.
Famous as he is, Derek Jeter could do all those things, and probably will do some of them. He's said he wants to travel, that he would like to start a family. He has mentioned the possibility of owning at least part of a Major League team (Josh, could you advise him on that?). At this time in his life, it is not an overstatement to say that anything he decides to do is a strong possibility, and that he will probably be successful at any or all of these things.
But the first venture that will definitely be on Jeter's agenda after the hoopla dies out next Sunday and then there is no more Derek Jeter in baseball?
Derek Jeter is starting his own publishing company, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. You have to love a guy who likes books.
This week's reminder: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is scheduled for--waddaya know!--16 days from today, on October 8! Buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen and take a photo of yourself with the book (or title page of the ebook). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter for all (especially me) to see. For everyone who does that on Pub Day (which you might have heard is October 8), I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism SPectrum Education Network, and our own Josh Getzler's HSG Agency will match the donation. That pledge is good for the first 100 people to post--be one of them!
In the 1980s, a man named Stephen Blumberg stole thousands of books and manuscripts from American libraries, amassing a collection worth millions of dollars. (For the full story, see his Wikipedia entry or the "Bibliokleptomania" chapter of Nicholas Basbanes’s A Gentle Madness.)
Colorado College was one of the many stops on Blumberg's cross-country book-stealing tour. He stole at least two books from us. One of these was no big deal, a 1930s pamphlet on Bent’s Fort, easily replaceable. The other, however, was quite rare: Henry Villard’s The Past and Present of the Pikes Peak Gold Region, published in 1860. Currently, it's held in only a handful of U.S. libraries and isn't available from any dealer. The FBI valued the CC copy, in its crummy modern binding, at $10,000.
Blumberg may have stolen as many as a dozen books from our library, but only these two were recovered. Library staff worked with the FBI to get the books back. It was particularly complicated because Blumberg not only removed or covered over library ownership marks from books, he also added false library marks. So, for example, a book stolen from Harvard might get a University of Michigan bookplate slapped onto it, and then a “withdrawn” stamp on top of that.
As was his wont, Blumberg used his own saliva to remove the CC bookplate from our copy of this book. Nevertheless, the FBI tracked it down, and it was returned to CC after Blumberg's 1991 trial. He spent almost five years in jail. Since 1996, he has been convicted twice more for similar thefts.
Because researchers often want to see the book that Blumberg stole, but can't always remember the name of it, we now state in our catalog record that our copy of the Villard book was "temporarily part of the Blumberg Collection." It's a good book to bring out with classes when we want to talk about the ethics of book collecting, and always sparks an interesting discussion.
We’re all becoming familiar with the latest trend in the airline industry: those little “perks” (food, checked baggage, leg room) that used to be a means of attracting customers are now available only for a fee. Hotels are charging “guests” for clean linens, exercise rooms, and many other items that used to be free. Recently I heard of someone’s being charged $25 to print a boarding pass. The concept of beating the competition on service and amenities has given way to the bottom line. If you have to compete on price alone, then the costs of the business must be cut to the bone, and every “extra” has a cost and thus a price.
Sad to say, some recent reports from authors lead me to believe that this mindset has invaded the bookselling world. The image of the gracious small bookshop, careful to maintain the image of being a bit above any show of “filthy commerce,” has already been diminished by the large chain stores. Now it seems that in order to survive, some shops are following the lead of other industries in charging for what used to be a normal expense of the business. My information is anecdotal, and I would be interested in any comments indicating how widespread some of these practices have become.
First I heard that a local author had been asked to pay a fee to have a book signing at another shop. I know that authors of a certain stature are paid for appearances, but this is the first I have heard of the reverse. These events consume some time and money of the bookseller, who often does publicity, serves refreshments, and, of course, stocks the books. It also takes up the author’s time and resources in travel, preparation, and answering the audience question “How do I get published?” The financial compensation to bookseller and author is in book sales. The additional benefit, we hope, is in drawing attention to both the author and the shop. There is always the risk for both that no one will come, and much time is spent by both parties looking for a “hook” that will increase attendance.
Independent booksellers are approached almost weekly by self-published, small-press-published, or mainstream-but-first-book-published authors requesting signing events. I have hosted events for all three categories, but it never occurred to me to charge for them. If I think what is being offered is cr--, I politely decline. It would be hard to promote something I don’t think has potential, and I haven’t figured out the price at which I would sacrifice the trust I have built with my customers.
Next, I learned that another bookshop was selling advertising for books in its customer newsletter. Wow! I would get my intermittent newsletter out a lot more often if it was a paying proposition. I have not seen this newsletter, so I can only hope that the ads are clearly marked as such. I’m a bookseller, not a reviewer, but I think the same ethic applies: it should be clear if there is compensation for recommending a particular work.
“Ticketing” book-signing events is becoming more common. There is an admission charge, and it is the price of the book. You must buy the book to attend. This practice began to prevent attendees from purchasing the book on A#*$@% and bringing it for signing at the local bookshop. There is nothing wrong with requiring any books presented for signing to be purchased at the shop, and unless the event is huge, is not hard to monitor. Most attendees come with the intention of making a purchase, but I think it is justifiable to decide after hearing an author that the book is not the customer’s cup of tea. There are, of course, a few “regulars” who come for the entertainment and never purchase, but that is just part of the business.
Times are tough for both authors and booksellers. Marketing budgets at publishing houses have been slashed. It seems that the cost of the two-page spread in the New York Times Book Review for an author whose book will be No. 1 on “The List” no matter what could be better spent on the many fine works sitting unread because only small shops are promoting them, but that is a topic for another time. Most authors find that after the book is published, the work is not complete but just beginning; now they have to sell it. The independent bookseller has to deal with giant retailers who are selling books at or below the price the bookseller without market power pays for the same item. Is it wrong for the author who has poured years of blood, sweat, and lost family time into his effort to pay a bookseller who is struggling daily to keep the doors open to recommend his work? If it comes to that, something valuable will be lost in the bookselling world.
In a post earlier this year, Jessy Randall suggested that bookstores might need to begin charging an admission fee for browsers. I responded by pointing out that those who appreciated the physical display of books, the bookseller’s expertise, and the general ambiance, could support that effort by buying books. An idea that seemed preposterous to me at the time (we aren’t museums yet!) now has some appeal. Perhaps a $5 entrance fee, to be credited toward a purchase if one is made? It seems that bookselling may be going the way of airlines and hotels: if you want what used to be included in the package, you must pay an additional charge for it. Maybe I’m getting too old for modern commerce – retirement may be closer than I thought.
by Erin Mitchell
Some relatively random thoughts/observations this week…
In case you missed it, the Bouchercon programming schedule has been posted. Click here to view/print/download it. There are nine panels at a time this year, so chances are good everyone will be able to find something of interest.
Last night, Scotland voted no to becoming an independent country. Voter turnout was 84.6%. I didn’t have a dog in this particular hunt, although I was hoping for a different outcome. But I’ve been fascinated with the role media (social and otherwise) and IRL events/discussion played in this process, because I think there’s a lot to be learned for the book world.
Because I am lucky to work with some of the best storytellers (not to mention publishers) out there, I have a couple of clients on the September 28 New York Times Best Sellers list. One of them is a brand new book, Robert B. Parker’s BLIND SPOT by Reed Farrel Coleman. It’s fair to say that Reed honors Mr. Parker’s legacy in a way that only he can, and readers are loving it. The other is a book first published some 22 years ago, Lawrence Block’s A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES. This has long been a favorite book of mine, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie this afternoon. And Hard Case Crime has done an amazing job with the movie tie-in edition of the book!
The new iPhone and iOS8 are here. Or there. I mean, I don’t have a new iPhone, but lots of people do. I did upgrade to iOS8. I find it interesting that Apple has apparently abandoned any focus on selling books, particularly given that one of the new iPhones is big enough to be a pseudo-tablet.
Fall is upon us. Heck, it’s even snowed in South Dakota. The next few months will bring an abundance of amazing books, and now would be a swell time to preorder a few of them.
Have a great weekend!
At every writer's conference I am invited to, I participate in a few panels, take pitches, and do critiques. As for the panels, it is usually made up of editors and agents, but occassionally just editors. Regardless, we get some commonly asked questions. I am going to tackle a few here.
Why do I need an agent?
If you are hoping to be published by the big New York houses, you need an agent to get in the door. And for me, I no longer accept unagented submissions unless I have requested your manuscript after meeting you at a conference.
As an editor, I expect submissions from agents to be polished. Sure, I am going to ask for some revisions, but a good agent will have tightened and tweaked your manuscript. You agent should be shaping that manuscript/series and managing your writing career.
Finally, the agent deals with all the business crap that comes with publishing. He or she will negotiate the contract, which means better terms for you. And if something comes up, I can work with agent on the problem, rather than muddying my creative relationship with the author. There is much more to the author/agent/editor relationship, but to me, these are the biggest points.
Will you publish a book I have already self published? Will you pick up book three in my series (first two were self published or traditionally published)?
There is no absolute yes or no answer here. But it definitely leans toward probably not. If a book is published in print form, there will be sales numbers attached to the book. If those numbers are low, it's a risk to pick up that series. If it's only pubbed in ebook, there is no central reporting place, so the publisher may ask you to supply statements showing sales, otherwise we are blindly trusting the author. Publishers are far more comfortable with new work. BUT, this is an ever evolving situation. The answer to this might be completely different in six months from now.
Do I need a platform?
In non-fiction, yes. In fiction, no. But about six months before publication date, I want the author to at least have a clean website and a facebook page. You don't need to be hyper active online - you have to find the balance between social media, writing, and living the rest of your life which probably invovles a day job, kids, pets, family. So figure out what you are comfortable with and go from there.
What trends do you see?
Don't write to a trend, write the story that is inside you. Paranormal is waning. It will never go away though. So if your story is about Valkyries and vampires, write it!
What is your day like? How many submissions do you get? What makes you reject manuscripts?
see my previous posts for that
How do you feel about indie publishing vs traditional publishing?
I think the smartest authors are ones that are following the hybrid model. There are advantages to both indie and traditional publishing. As an indie author, it's difficult to get media exposure (Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, Booklist, etc.) As a traditional author, you don't get to control the process and your royalties are significantly less. So do both, and let the two paths build on each other. And if you are traditionally published, it also gives you greater security to publish with two different publishers. Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky, no matter who holds the basket.
And one last note -
If you are going to self publish, please hire an editor to make sure your manuscript is solid and clean. Pubbing a book filled with errors will do you no favors. Consider this your business - everything you put out needs to look professional and polished. This also goes for submitting to agents and editors. My time is valuable, and if you send me a manuscript filled with typos and errors, you will not get the benefit of the doubt. Your manuscript will be automatically rejected. And I will remember that if you submit again.
What other questions do you have? I would be happy to answer them in the comments section or in a future blog post. Have a happy Thursday!
Warm sunshine and beautiful places to sit and enjoy it; good wine, good food, and the occasional bad-for-me-but-what-the-hell treat; an outing or three to interesting places; and books stacked high enough to last the entire fortnight. What more could anyone ask of a holiday? Or vacation, depending which language you’re speaking?
On which subject, I even spoke a little French, and was told I spoke it very well. It probably isn’t true; I think people were being kind because I tried to speak it at all, and I certainly didn’t make a great fist of understanding what was said back to me, but we got by.
It wasn’t just sunshine, wine and time to read. We visited a domaine which produced pineau des Charentes (another name for nectar of the gods); tasted wine and wobbled down steep cobbled streets in St Emilion, not necessarily in that order; got lost outside Bordeaux; gazed at the harbour and walked round the aquarium in Saint Rochelle; and even caught up with an old friend who upped sticks and moved to the Charente Valley a few years ago and has never regretted it for a moment.
But mostly there was a lot of sunshine, not a little wine and books, books, books.
First up, my lovely daughter, who volunteers in a charity secondhand bookshop once a week, had unearthed a rare copy of a YA book by my very dear and sadly departed friend Douglas Hill, but he wrote fantasy, not crime, so I’ll just say it was great fun and I shall treasure it.
Then I decided I’d better stop hogging The Thrill of the Haunt, the most recent Haunted Guesthouse Mystery by your friend and mine, E J Copperman, since it was much in demand by two of my fellow vacationers. Reading that took a couple of days; I like to savour E J’s wit and neat hand with a turn of phrase. When I’d finished it and passed it on, lovely daughter came up trumps again, with An Open Spook, an eBook novella in the series which she’d stowed on one of those dinky little mini-computer things which we non-techies don’t know how to switch on. (No, it’s not a K*****. It’s MUCH cleverer than that, and even got us out of trouble when Bordeaux threatened to turn adventure into nightmare – see above. Besides, she feels much as I do on the K***** score.)
After that box, or possibly electronic device, of delights, I embarked on The Critic, by an author I’d never sampled before, though he’s been out there for years: one Peter May, who seems to have settled in a wine-producing area of France, and in this case had written about... a wine-producing area of France. And since we were staying in, yes, you guessed, it all felt quite cosy. Not that the book was in the least cosy; there were elaborate and occasionally gory murders, code-cracking, a great protagonist and a lot of detailed wine-related research by the author, which enriched the background and didn’t hold the action up at all. So of course I felt I owed it to him to do some wine-related research of my own, and it didn’t hold up my reading pace either.
A week or so before we set out, my good friend Zoë Sharp had filled a gap on the S shelf of my extensive book collection with Die Easy, the latest full-length adventure for her brilliant kick-ass heroine Charlie Fox, and another not-too-slim volume containing six short stories and a novella called Absence of Light, all also featuring the mettlesome Ms Fox. They kept me on the edge of my seat, and lasted – just – till the night before we arrived home.
So if you still have holidays, or even vacations, to come, and are looking for reading matter to fill the free hours, I strongly recommend each and every one of the above. Preferably the print editions where available, to maintain a centuries-old tradition that really shouldn’t be allowed to die. Thanks, Zoë, E J, Peter and Douglas – a real collection of treats.
Thanks also to my good friend Chris Nickson, who had far more important things to do while I was away, but still found time to post in my place last week. Not only is he permanently writing, reworking and gestating about five projects at once; he also organized a hugely popular launch event last week, for the first in his new series.
And now, three days after we returned, it’s business as usual, and feels as if I’ve never been away.
SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to know E.J. Copperman's true identity (and I'm guessing that category applies to no one at all), don't read any further. I wouldn't want to disillusion a reader. Or a non-reader. Or anybody else.
So here's the thing: As was discussed in some detail last week, THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, the first Asperger's mystery featuring the fictional Samuel Hoenig, will be published by our very own Terri Bischoff's Midnight Ink in just a hair over three weeks, on October 8. It's a mystery involving and told by a man who has a high-functioning form of an autism related disorder, and it involves, as one might expect from the title, a missing head, in this case a frozen one.
It's also the first official collaboration between myself and E.J. Copperman, and that's sort of an interesting situation.
That's right, friends, it's the first book I ever wrote with myself.
The cover of the book clearly states the authors' names as, "E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen," as if that clears anything up. But the fact is I was alone in the room when it was written, although that's hardly a definitive indication that anyone called E.J. Copperman didn't write the book. E.J., after all, is me, and nobody's tried to keep that a secret for quite some time.
In and of itself (which is an expression that doesn't mean anything, but whatever), the fact that both of my names are up on the cover of the book is somewhat irrelevant. If you enjoy the book, it could be written by Hans Gruber and it wouldn't matter. If you don't enjoy the book, it could be a work of William Shakespeare (who as far as I know never knowingly wrote about Asperger's) and that would be equally unimportant.
But sitting down to write the book a few years ago (it took a while to find a home, and thankfully Terri liked it), I honestly didn't know if it was going to be a Jeff book or an E.J. book, and I do actually approach the two differently, even if I'm not conscious of the effort at the time. So in writing THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD (which had another title back in those days), I was sort of channeling the E.J. side of my brain even while the Jeff side was poking his nose into it just to keep things on an even keel. So it really is a product of both.
I got the idea when Evan Hunter and Ed McBain (both of whom were actually Salvatore Lombino) wrote a book together. Now, that seemed like a great idea! You get two author names on the book for followers of either previously published writer, and you don't have to split the royalties! What's not to like?
It does irk me when (as a number of review sites and an online retailer or two) some people consider THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD as strictly an E.J. Copperman book and leave my birth name off it entirely. I mean, I worked as hard as E.J. on it--harder even, since I was doing the typing--and I think I deserve a little credit, don't you?
Having just sent off the draft of the second Samuel book, whose title has not yet been confirmed (and I've learned to keep my mouth shut about such things), I can say the second time around it was more of a total collaboration because now I was aware both names would be on the cover. There was more give-and-take, but either way, I got or gave because there wasn't anyone else there. Except our new dog Gizmo, who is adorable but chews things a lot.
So I can tell you something I never knew before: Collaborating with yourself can be fun and rewarding. But the best part, without question, is writing the authors' acknowledgments, when I got to thank myself twice.
P.S.: Our sincere wishes for a quick and easy recovery to our own Josh Getzler, just now starting toward getting his shoulder back the way it should be. We want you back here ASAP, sir, so get to work!
P.P.S.: While we're on the subject of Josh, he has informed me that HSG Agency, of which he is the "G", will match my total donation to ASPEN, the Autism Spectrum Education Network, when we tally it all up from the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE (announced here last week). Remember the rules: Buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD and have it in your hands on its publication day, October 8. Take a picture of yourself with said book (or e-reader title page thereof). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter and make sure I see it. I will donate (and now Josh will match) $3 for every picture posted up to 100 pictures that day. Don't miss your chance to donate to a very worthy cause without spending any extra money! And thanks, Josh and everybody at HSG!
When I was hired as Curator of Special Collections at Colorado College, we had about thirty books and boxes on a shelf labeled "cataloging snags." I ignored these as long as I could, but finally one day I gave the shelf some attention.
As you might expect, I found mostly 20th century books in non-Roman writing systems -- books in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, etcetera. There was also a box of old coins, including, gasp, a penny from the 1950s, worth perhaps as much as 15 cents to an expert collector. The shelf was full of junk, in other words. Nothing "special" for Special Collections at all.
And then there was this.
Let me try to approximate the sound I made at this point. It was something like this:
The book is the first published English translation of Aristotle's Politics, printed by Adam Islip in London in 1598. It has the bookplate of English scholar Sir Sidney Lee (b. 1859), editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. He wrote a little bit about Aristotle and a lot about Shakespeare.
We cataloged it right away. How it ended up on the cataloging snags shelf, I don't know. It wasn't terribly difficult to catalog -- it has its title page, and the Library of Congress owns a copy. It's in beautiful condition and is one of the more valuable books we have in the library. It's now in our temperature- and humidity-controlled high-security vault. I bring it out regularly to show to classes in Classics, Philosophy, Political Science, and Book Studies. And I'm thinking about making the kitty cat on the title page the mascot for Special Collections.
by Erin Mitchell
I read an article a couple of weeks ago that discussed online venues that are “crucial” for authors. It covered the usual suspects—website, Facebook, Twitter—and…LinkedIn.
I should mention right up front that the article I read was not written by an American. For whatever reason, LinkedIn has a much better reputation outside the U.S. People take it more seriously as a viable venue for professionals to discuss matters of import.
Over here, though, it remains primarily for young people seeking jobs and misguided individuals sending spam.
As you might have guessed, I don’t see LinkedIn as a venue for authors, crucial or otherwise. (I’m talking about fiction. For nonfiction, it might be helpful, depending on the topic.)
If you already have a LinkedIn account, there’s no need to rush out and delete it. In fact, I recommend leaving it alone; deleting a LinkedIn account rates on a scale of difficulty right up with hacking into a bank. Which is hard.
LinkedIn has tried to reinvent itself more times than I can count, most recently as a sort of grown-up Facebook, where instead of wishing people happy birthday, you congratulate them on work anniversaries, promotions, or new jobs. You can also “endorse” specific skills people say they have.
But ultimately, LinkedIn is what it has always been: a way for people to look for new employment and contact people they don’t know but have some (often tenuous) connection to.
If you’re an author looking to contact people with expertise in a specific, narrow area, LinkedIn would have been your best bet once upon a time. Now, you’re better off with Google. (Again, unless that person is outside the U.S., in which case LinkedIn could be helpful. Maybe.)
If you’re looking for an agent or publisher, LinkedIn is of no use to you whatsoever. Anyone you contact through there won’t want to be contacted that way. Trust me.
And if, having read all of this, you are still compelled to sign up for LinkedIn, please, for the love of whatever you believe in, do not pay them money. Their cheapest “premium” subscription is $287.88 per year. If you have that much money to throw around, please give it to your favorite charity.
LinkedIn was a good idea when it started, but it has become utterly stagnant. Maybe they’ll reinvent themselves next week and become something useful for the book world. Stranger things have happened. If that does, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Two things that tell us summer is ending - kids going back to school and a daytime high in the low 50's. In Minnesota we got both of those things the last two weeks. For my kids school started the day after Labor Day. And this week we have been treated to highs in the 50's and low 60's. I am happy about the weather, but even happier about the start of school!
Five days into the school year, my fourth grader's teacher sent out the information on ordering books through Scholastic. My kids love books as much as I do. Taking them to a bookstore is quite dangerous because they will have a huge stack of books in no time. Libraries are a little easier on the wallet. After all, the fines for late books don't match the cost of buying even more books for our house. (The boys already have an impressive library.) I am excited to see what the boys will pick out. Last year my oldest son was into Minecraft books and the "I Survived" series. One of my twins reads any and all hand me downs from his older brother (I have two very advanced readers) and my other twin has just started to embrace reading. Nothing warms my heart more than when we get home from football practice and my reluctant reader and my oldest immediately open their books to start reading!
All of my kids are supposed to read every night. And how does that affect me? I find myself reading more as well. Because I read so much for my job, there are nights when I just don't want to read anything at all. Yet there is something magical when you see three heads buried in books. It makes me want to join them in their adventures. Getting lost in a book is the best feeling in the world. Then I saw this on facebook:
Knowing that my boys are taking in these stories, making them come alive with their intrepretations and imagainations, well, it reassures me that there will be books and stories and adventures in their lives for years to come.
(If you have any suggestions for kids's books - lay them on me! My oldest is in fourth grade. He used to only read non-fiction, but now has added ficiton. He is currently reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. My twins are in first grade. One is at a third grade level, the other at first/second grade. They read anything, but more fiction than non-fiction. Thanks for any suggestions!)
To begin, a huge apology to everyone. Lynne asked me to take her place for two weeks while she’s on holiday…and I forgot the time began last week.
In July, the new novel by a good friend of mine appeared. It’s not crime fiction, it’s an historical. But she’s an established author who, under her real name, has published two historical crime series. And her first historical, under a pen name, had done well.
But when she submitted a proposal for her new book, which actually continued the life of the (real) character in the just-published novel, it was rejected. Why? Because sales had been disappointing. At that point the book had been published for five weeks.
I understand that publishing is a science these days, rather than an art, and that pre-orders can determine sales. But five weeks? They’d put some money behind the book – not a fortune, but still some…and the initial reviews had been very good.
What happened to word of mouth? What happened to give a book time to find an audience? These things take time to percolate, don’t they?
I realize that I’m an author. My point of view is different; I’m down at the sharp end. But I’m lucky in that my publisher has taken a chance on a new series from me, and accepted the second book before the first even appeared (called Gods of Gold, it was published in the UK two weeks ago – obligatory advertising). What’s happened with my friend has really made me appreciate them.
But I’m interested in opinions from the other side. How do you feel about a decision like that?
Like many of you (I’d guess most of you), I received a very cheerful email from iTunes this morning, letting me know that I was one of the lucky 500 MILLION account holders music lovers who received, free of charge, the new album by U2 in their iTunes library. Then they said the following:
Never before have this many people owned an album — let alone on the day it was released. This is a big moment in music history. And you're a part of it.
OK, let’s talk about this for real for a minute. What U2 did, fundamentally, was participate in a publicity program not unlike a Kindle free book promotion, only iTunes eliminated the step where you need to get the ebook into your device—it simply put it there. And frankly, that’s fine, if perhaps cheesy. But then to call it “a big moment in music history” where “never before have this many people owned an album” is eye-rollingly disingenuous. What’s more, it speaks to numerous arguments about value/worth/price of a product.
When I began to work in minor league baseball in 1996, I took over an organization in upstate New York which had, for five years, effectively given away its tickets to every game through a (badly thought-out and inefficient) coupon system that made it unnecessary for any fan to pay for a ticket. The previous operators reasoned that they would make their fiscal nut by getting people into the park for free, then having them purchase food, beer, and merchandise. Didn’t work. Going to a game was thought of as, first and foremost, a Cheap Night Out, and fans were not in fact spending more money on hot dogs because they had budgeted a certain amount for the evening and then had more because of the free tickets. Rather, they spent the same amount or less, because everyone knew that the tickets were going to be free—they had no value, so there was no real savings. The first thing we did when we arrived in town was to set a real value for tickets—albeit a very low number—and while fewer people came initially (because they resented paying for something all of a sudden which had previously been free), those who did actually spent more on food and merch because their expectations had shifted from being a Cheap night to a Fun night.
There have been lots of conversations recently, in the Hachette/Amazon fight, over the way Amazon has stated that less expensive ebooks sell more copies, and therefore will pass the break-even point with the current pricing models and make authors more money while charging less to the customer. I think there are legitimate arguments to be made on both sides of this. But there is also a significant danger in basing a policy on lowering prices all the time for all products. Amazon itself saw this a few years ago when WalMart stood up to it, and there was a Race To Free for a number of titles. For one or two instances, a retailer can deal with it (and the authors were receiving full royalties so they didn’t suffer, even as it cost Amazon and WalMart money—much as Apple is losing sales on U2 albums in the interest of a splash and enormous distribution). But as a policy…tough to maintain. Amazon clearly believes it has the winning algorithms to make more money for itself while charging its customers less and paying its authors more. If it emerges victorious, we will have to see.
Which brings me back to U2. I’ve been a fan of this band for more than 30 years (JEEZ!) I saw them for the first time at 16, and again at 43. I’ve bought all their albums, and worn out many of them. They haven’t been particularly in the forefront of my mind since I saw them at Giants Stadium a few years ago and thought they were…fine. But when I’m on shuffle and Sunday Bloody Sunday or Beautiful Day or Magnificent comes on, I realize that they are the hall of famers they are.
They also release a TON of odds and sods and remixes and dub versions and acoustic demos, so when I got word that they were releasing their new album for free, I figured it was one of those. Which is to say, because it was for free, I figured it had (virtually) no value. It was just going to be a gimmick, and would be worthy of the eye rolling, and would take U2 further out of the middle of my consciousness.
Then I actually listened to it, and thought it was terrific. It’s new, but hearkens back to The Old Stuff I Love, and feels like a real ALBUM, with an overarching theme (albeit a possibly pretentious one, but hey, it’s Bono) and soaring choruses etc. And I suspect, that by simply spamming it to half a billion people, they’ve actually UNDERSOLD it. How about that?
Quick Note: I’m going to be going on the Disabled List for a couple of weeks for shoulder surgery. This slot will be taken by some terrific guests—Danielle Burby will write next week, and author Todd Moss (The Golden Hour) the week after. See you down the line!
Much has been made of the truly impressive campaign for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) this summer that raised (according to some reports) as much as $100-million by getting people to pour ice water over their heads. Others here have posted about this, and it is not my intention to discuss it at all other than to say that I was one of the people getting ice water poured over their heads, and while I am glad to have done it, I would greatly appreciate it if you would never look at the video of it happening, ever. Or at least until I lose 40 pounds.
In the light of that campaign, however, I am offering a challenge of my own, and as with the ALS Foundation, mine will benefit (although certainly not to the tune of 100 big ones) a very worthy cause and simultaneously will serve an interest of my own--namely, getting people to buy one of my books.
Exactly one month from today, on October 8,
THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD, the first Asperger's Mystery by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen (and there will be more on that match-up in coming weeks) will be published by our very own Terri Bischoff's Midnight Ink. It concerns a man named Samuel Hoenig who answers questions for a living and, as it happens, has a condition called Asperger's Syndrome, which until fairly recently was a disorder and now is... something else, according to the geniuses who classify such things. (Don't get me started.)
Hopefully interested readers will have seen the reviews by Publishers Weekly and Booklist, who very much enjoyed the book, and Kirkus Reviews, which... I honestly don't know, but they reviewed it. And I read the review. And I still don't know.
But we're drifting off the point. Because THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD does discuss Asperger's and it is central to the series--Samuel narrates the tales himself--I'd like to benefit an Asperger's-related group as well as drawing some attention (hopefully) to the book itself.
So here's the deal: THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD has a publisher's suggested retail price (Terri will tell you) of $14.99. It can probably be found for less. (It's a trade paperback.) So if you buy one, you're not spending tons of money. But you'll be benefiting some people with Asperger's Syndrome and their families.
How? All you have to do is this: Buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD on the day it's published, Wednesday October 8. Take a picture (or have someone take a picture) of yourself with the book--or if you buy it as an e-book, a picture of yourself holding your reader with the title page of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD showing. No PhotoShop allowed.
Then post that picture to your Facebook or Twitter account. Make sure I see it by friending me on Facebook or following me (in either guise) on Twitter (@jeffcohenwriter or @ejcop). For each person who posts such a picture that I get to see--and that all your followers on either or both social networks get to see--I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism Spectrum Education Network, an excellent support group for those who have family members with AS related disorders, based in my home state of New Jersey, where the Asperger's Mysteries are set (and where the incidence of autism-related disorders is about the highest in the U.S.).
ASPEN was one of the first places we contacted when our son was diagnosed with Asperger's back when nobody had heard of Asperger's. And we found help, information, support and programs that were all incredibly useful and are paying dividends with our Josh (not Josh who blogs here) every single day. I even used the president of ASPEN, Lori Shery, as a character in one of the Aaron Tucker novels. She was really helpful then, too.
So by buying the book and posting your picture, you'll be getting a book that hopefully you'll enjoy and ASPEN will get $3. That's up to 100 people, and only on publication day of Wednesday, October 8. I'm not made of money. (And even if I were, it'd be weird to send pieces of myself to pay for stuff, wouldn't it?)
That's the deal. A fun mystery about a guy with Asperger's trying to find a missing frozen head and you get to feel good about helping a very worthy cause without having to spend extra money. What's not to like?
I'll be reminding you about the MISSING HEAD Challenge over the next few weeks. If you want to pre-order the novel at your local bookstore to make sure you'll have a copy in your hands on pub day, I'll be they'd be happy to help. But those are the rules: Up to 100 people, pictures proving you have the book (no fair sharing the book with friends--make them get their own copy!), posted on Facebook or Twitter, on Wednesday, October 8.
Do you think we can hit the 100 people? I'm hoping to have to write a $300 check!
Colorado College started school this week, and the library is crazy busy with tours and instruction sessions. The Special Collections reading room has been jammed with people every day.
So, like John Cage, this week I have nothing to say and I am saying it.
First let me apologize for not posting last week. I was on vacation and since blogging here is new to my schedule, I completely forgot.
As I type this, I am sitting in the kitchen of a friend of mine who lives in Denver. Tomorrow one of my favorite writers conferences start - the Gold Conference put on by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.
But tonight is the kickoff to the NFL season. I warned you that I would write about the Packers at some point! Ah yes, my beloved Packers will be playing the Seattle Seahawks tonight. I can't express how happy I am that football season has started! I love football - both professional and college.
My nine year old is in his second year of tackle football. He plays middle linebacker. He is #5
Now, as a parent and an avid football fan, I am a little nervous about his noggin. He's a smart kid - I want him to stay that way. Fortunately, our school district and athletic associations follow a program called Heads Up Football. I have seen their logo painted on fields of the preseason games I have watched. It's a national initiative to make football safer and reduce concussions. Organizations that endorse Heads Up Football include the NFL, the Big 10 conference, the Big 12 conference, and Pac 12 conference, NCAA, Pop Warner and a bunch of other organizations. You can read about Heads Up Football here.
Kids are taught to tackle leading with their chest and keeping their head up instead of dropping their head and leading with it. Already at this age, I see a difference in their tackling. And it makes me happy. My twins are in flag football this year and most likely will follow in their brother's footsteps. And when we are watching football this season, I know that my oldest and I will be watching to see how tackles are made and when guys get flagged for making contact with their opponent's head. It will be a fun season!
Next week I will get back to regular programming and talk about books. And if there is anything you are interesting in knowing about publishing or my job as an editor, please let me know. Hope you all enjoy the opening of the NFL season!
I’ve been having the funny feeling the last couple of weeks that I’ve been regressing back to high school. It’s not simply that I ALWAYS feel nostalgic this time of year, as the kids get ready to return from the summer. But this summer vacation has been filled with reminders of my days with big hair and long overcoats and bright yellow Walkmen.
First I read Eleanor and Park on the advice of the 12 YO, and it took me back to the Smiths and the Replacements and XTC (and bright yellow Walkmen); then last night we watched The Breakfast Club with the kids, and between the layers and overcoats and the Molly Ringwald Dance and Simple Minds I was back to Junior Year, wondering if I would also lose my soul when I grew up.
Tomorrow I’m going to Washington, DC for a couple of days of meetings and the launch of Todd Moss’s Golden Hour (had to get that in!), and I’m back to being a Congressional Page at 17, watching Live Aid and running around the Capitol Building in the roastingly hot DC summer. Then in the fall I’ll be seeing Sting’s new musical The Last Ship, and I’ll be back in my very enthusiastic high school band trying (enthusiastically!) to play So Lonely. And I just looked through the musical offerings in DC Thursday night. The Buzzcocks are playing a little club. The last time I saw them it was around 1988, and I was in college. And I just got my 25th Reunion notice. My son just finished watching Weird Science while my daughter was listening to Marlene On The Wall.
All we’re missing is a Soviet Premier threatening to use Nukes…oh.
If you're hoping for crime fiction stuff, I'm taking the day off. It's Labor Day. So while I know no issue is one-sided, I offer a question:
Given the demonization of labor unions that is the current rage in the U.S., is it hypocritical to have a holiday honoring labor?
Play nice, children. Answer any way you like. But if the discourse gets unruly, I will indeed exercise my right as editor and delete anything I feel is personal or impolite. All opinions are welcome. But not all tones.
In the wake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swedish mysteries are all the rage. Not that they aren’t good, but they may be getting more attention than thrillers set in, say, Honduras. Anything with a Swedish connection seems to have a little extra oomph right now. Cecilia Ekbäck is, in fact, from Sweden, but she now lives in Canada and wrote this book in English, which probably makes it easier to present to a U.S. audience. Historical novels are also hot, and Wolf Winter wins on this front too.
Set on the frontier of Swedish Lapland in 1717, Wolf Winter includes a murder, but it goes beyond to study human behavior under extremes. In 18th century Scandinavia, the struggle with winter and just finding food to make it through until spring was brutal. Maija has moved from a coastal town to a rugged mountain with her husband and daughters. This sparsely-settled area holds just a few families, and the closest town is miles away. Almost as soon as they get there, one of the daughters finds a dead body; the story of how and why this man was killed unfolds throughout the novel. Against a backdrop of the politics and culture of the time, Ekbäck explores of how people act under pressure, whether political, social, or religious. The culturally distinct Lapps play a role in the story, as does the state-sanctioned church and even the King of Sweden. In the end, Maija and most of the other settlers survive the harsh winter, but not without much suffering, both physical and psychological.
At times I was reminded of Halldor Laxness’s Independent People and other novels that bring home the fundamental toughness of rural life in Scandinavia. I can’t evaluate the authenticity of Ekbäck’s recreation of Sweden in 1717, but I found it all eminently believable. I enjoyed both the historical detail and the characters. The author’s spare style fits well with the reserved people and harsh landscape she describes. This title is due out in January 2015.
Gwen Gregory is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She reads books the way many people watch TV.
Now that the summer rush is about to end, it’s time to think seriously again about ordering books for the shop in a less frenetic fashion. In the spring, thoughts are about what will be popular for vacation reading. Laying hands on copies of the summer reading lists of the local schools is another chore; the schools’ websites are becoming inaccessible to outsiders, and curriculum planners may or may not take the time to respond to a request for a list. Customers with kids turn out to be the best resource. Once the season begins, it seems more time is spent restocking (“We’re out of Maze Runner again!”) or ordering items you didn’t think would be big, but turned out to be.
Only a few years ago, I could peruse the biannual New York Times Sunday section listing films to be released in the next several months, and feel comfortable that stocking books on which forthcoming films were based would satisfy demand for those who want both the written and visual versions. I just had to be careful to get the right book cover; most of my customers hate (as I do) the “media tie-in” covers. The physical book looks dated in a very short time, whether it’s still on my shelf or in the customer’s library. When I have tried having both versions on display, the non-media copies are the ones that sell. I have had customers say it cheapens written work , and I agree. A while back, the standard cover for As I Lay Dying was temporarily out of stock, and so I went with the movie tie-in cover. I overheard a customer saying that he wanted the book, but couldn’t stand looking at James Franco. He was willing to wait for a “real” copy.
More recently, I find that being aware of upcoming film releases is only half the job when it comes to ordering for media-related books. The burgeoning number of series television shows on HBO, Netflix, STARZ, and who knows how many other outlets has created a huge market for the books on which they are based. The Game of Thrones series was always popular with fantasy fans and a steady seller. It has now become mainstream, has moved from my Fantasy section to a more central display area, and requires a quick inventory check whenever I am placing an order, especially if a new season is beginning. Outlander is beginning to follow the same pattern.
I am not a big TV or film fan. What leisure time I have is usually spent reading. I am tempted by some of the ongoing (and completed) TV series, but will probably wind up “binge-watching” if we have another bad winter. Thus I have to rely on written sources to find out what’s happening. With the advent of the mini-and maxi-series trend, I find myself making notes while reading the newspaper or magazines so that I can anticipate which books will be in demand.
My totally unscientific observation (and from one who is not a filmgoer) is that there has been a steady increase over the last few years in the number of movies based on bestselling (or classic) books, and more recently, based on young adult fiction. I feared for a while that this trend would decrease the interest in books. I have heard the comment, particularly from young visitors to my shop who are being encouraged by a parent to choose a particular book, “I saw the movie. I don’t need to read the book!” Fortunately, this sentiment appears to be the minority view and is usually expressed by reluctant readers. Film and TV versions of books are increasing sales. Some want to read the book before seeing the film. Others love the film and realize that the written version probably contains character development, subplots, and details missing from the visual version. (I wonder how the upcoming film of Gone Girl can possibly contain all the plot reversals of the book, even if it is 2 ½ hours long.)
Certainly the Game of Thrones and Outlander television shows have introduced book series that have been ongoing for years, but limited to audiences of Fantasy or Time-Travel Romance fans, to mainstream readers. Both are deserving of this wider audience and offer much more than their previous “genre” classifications implied. Readers who never read fantasy and have completed the Game of Thrones volumes are looking for more books in a similar vein: Thus the increase in sales of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. More important, readers are expanding their horizons and discovering that this “genre” stuff might be every bit as good as the “literary” works they have limited themselves to in the past.
Keeping up with what’s happening in the film, television, and on-line entertainment worlds means a little more work for the bookseller who wants to offer the consumer the print versions of their favorite shows or movies. But if these other media are leading readers back to books, showing them the advantages of the written word, and causing them to seek out more books, even if they haven’t been filmed (yet), it’s well worth it.
by Erin Mitchell
I was going to write a Very Serious Post this week about LinkedIn. But you know what? It’s my last post of August—so the last of unofficial summer—and most of you have already started your holiday weekend, so instead, I wanted to share some silly fun.
Not long ago, Facebook introduced “Trending Topics.” They added a heading called Trending on the right side of their home screen, under which stories about “popular topics or hashtags” are listed.
If they illustrate what the billion-plus people on Facebook are actually interested in, they’re pretty depressing.
To combat the sighing and eye-rolling in which I’m compelled to engage when I glance at the little Trending box, I started combining the stories—there are three displayed at a time—in my mind. And I found it hilarious. So I started sharing them. So here they are…
There’s a Snickers commercial about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting married because a senator was called fat by a male colleague.
Shakira is pregnant with Hello Kitty because a senator was called fat by a colleague!
Now Shakira is pregnant by Joan Rivers with Hello Kitty!
Michael Vick lied about saving drowning Shakira!
Joan Rivers is resting comfortably because Longmire was cancelled while Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married.
The UK terror threat has been raised because Netflix bought The Blacklist while a WWE legend is in intensive care with double pneumonia.
An attack in the UK is highly likely because Chelsea Clinton has quit CNN to join Tony Stewart at NASCAR!
I warned you they were silly.
And now, I wish all you Americans a lovely holiday weekend. If you’re drinking, please give your car keys to someone who isn’t.
One of the best things about running a small publishing company for seven years was meeting new people. Almost without exception, crime writers are the kind of people I want to spend time with. There’s a theory that they get rid of all their demons and dark side on the page, so what’s left for real life is plain old-fashioned nice-ness.
But despite all the best intentions, a major life-change like selling the company inevitably meant losing touch with a lot of the people I had come to regard as friends – so it was a great end to last week to meet up with some of them again, and also to make the acquaintance of someone whose path hadn’t crossed mine during those seven years. All the more so because one of my favourite leisure activities is sitting round the table after a good meal, making conversation with congenial people.
(Now, there’s a marketing ploy you may want to consider – accept a dinner invitation from a voracious reader. All you have to do is be good company for the evening.)
There were six of us round my table last Saturday evening: three crime fiction writers, one former crime fiction publisher (me), one avid crime fiction reader and one other for added interest. The conversation ranged far and wide. Among many other topics, other crime writers were discussed, as were agents and editors, but a little surprisingly, since it almost invariably does happen where two or more writers are gathered, we didn’t talk about money. Well, not much.
And my to-read bookshelf is now four books heavier, which is always a bonus.
The writer I’d never met before, even though he lives half an hour away from me, was one John Lawton. I’d never met his books either, though there are several to choose from. (So many books, so little time...) And though international Cold War thrillers aren’t generally high on my list of favourites, I just may dip a toe in that water now. Watch this space.
Though first I shall gobble up the two new Zoë Sharps. Can’t resist those. Anyone who has been to a crime fiction convention, in the UK or the US, must surely feel the same; Charlie Fox is one of the most engaging characters I’ve ever encountered.
Chris Nickson, the third writer at the table, doesn’t have a book out that I haven’t read (he’s a good friend, so I get sneak previews), but his latest, Gods of Gold, is published this month. I strongly recommend it, since he’s far too modest to do so.
Though since he’ll be posting in this slot next week and the week after, while I’m basking in the Charentais sunshine and pigging out on wonderful French food and even more wonderful English-language crime fiction, it’s possible he may mention it.
A toute à l’heure, mes amis.
So, have YOU been challenged yet?
Wait! Wait! Don’t click off. I realize that between summer and shoulders I’ve not been that active recently, and I missed the initial rosy glow of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now, when I want to write something supporting it, I look around and see the Backlash. Money being raised will take away from other charities. Less funding will be available to use for developing cures for diseases with more victims. Why are we pouring ice on our heads when there are water shortages? When ALS uses genomes? When scientists test on animals? When we should be thinking about ISIS and Gaza and Ferguson and Ukraine and Ebola and…
Stop it. Pull back for a minute.
A few weeks ago, ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease—was mostly known about by friends and relatives and colleagues of people who have, or more likely died, of the disease. My wife’s aunt, the incorrigible, powerful Carol Kaufman, was my link. She died several years ago after a terrible, painful illness where the humiliation was only lessened by the incredible love and dedication of her family. But beside Carol, I have never been affected by ALS directly, as opposed to cancer or Parkinson’s or MS or many other illnesses. There are only (only…) a few thousand people suffering from ALS at any time. There is no cure, and researchers are not overly well-funded. Last year, at this time, the ALS Association had raised somewhere around $2.5 million.
And then someone dumped a bucket of ice over his head, made a donation, posted it on Facebook, and challenged some friends to do the same. And all of a sudden the game had changed. It was 50 Shades of Grey or Gangnam Style, but trying to help eradicate a disease. And it’s all done by taking a video, talking for a minute, dumping some cold liquid on your head, and paying it forward. And what is wrong with that? It’s been absolutely rejuvenating for my Facebook surfing (and by the way, it’s been fascinating to see, as in the article here (http://digiday.com/platforms/facbeook-twitter-ferguson/), how users are staying of Facebook for this, while tweeting the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.) And it’s raised more than $80 MILLION in real money for ALS. And what’s wrong with THAT?
Well, folks are saying that it’s taking away discretionary charitable donation money away from other charities, and this is going to be a giant money suck away from other places that need it. Here’s the thing, though. The Challenge isn’t necessarily forcing anyone to give, or even suggest an amount. People are giving because they feel like doing good. It has felt to me (non-scientifically, so you can roll your eyes if you wish—but I suspect if you’ve read this far you likely aren’t going to do so) that this is the charity version of the impulse buy—the pack of gum or Us magazine at the checkout counter, where you aren’t going to stop buying bread (or, I suppose, the New Yorker, so stretch a metaphor until it screams) because one day you saw Oprah or Benedict Cumberbatch being shown doing something and feel like getting involved. I’m not going to give less to the American Cancer Society or my synagogue or my animal rights charities or my alma mater because I made a small donation to fight ALS because everyone else is doing it and it feels good.
Finally, another thing that’s happening is that people are starting to read about and understand ALS; and whether they are directly impacted by it or not in the future, they might have a little more understanding the next time they read about it or see a tv news story about it.
So that’s it. The ALS Challenge was a great, simple idea that took off unexpectedly. It has done good for the world. And it almost singlehandedly justified Facebook’s existence. There’s enough tragedy and despair in the world; let’s enjoy something good. OK?
My home state of New Jersey has something of an image problem, and it is one that can teach us all something about first impressions, images, perception and memory. In other words, you can learn a lot about writing a story and promoting it if you think about New Jersey.
Yes, I'm serious.
The thing about my beloved home--and no, I don't mean that ironically--is that it is a compressed version of the United States. Very compressed. We're the third smallest state, and yet we have the most densely packed population per square mile. There are almost 9-million people here, and you have to figure at least some of them are not being held against their will.
In New Jersey, one finds some of the most famous beaches in the country. We have lovely suburban areas sitting right to some very accessible and cosmopolitan cities. Great restaurants, hiking, historical areas, theme parks, skiing (if you're into that sort of thing), professional sports teams, casinos, performing arts centers, cultural events, theater, swimming, fishing, music, comedy, film, nature, and one-of-a-kind sights like Lucy the Elephant, which I will not picture here because you just have to see Lucy to believe it.
But there's a problem with the state's image: we are seen, for the most part, as a toxic waste dump run by the mob. Yes, there's political corruption in New Jersey and guess what--there is wherever you're living, too. We actually seem to be better at uncovering and dealing with it than other places, so it gets more publicity.
I believe the problem with New Jersey's image is much more basic, and much simpler to explain than a perception of politicians who close down bridges as forms of retribution or gangsters who somehow aren't quite good enough to work in the big city.
It's Newark Liberty International Airport.
To be more specific, the problem is that most people who don't live in this area come to New Jersey through the airport, which is mostly in Elizabeth, if the truth is told. You get out of the airport, and no matter which way you're headed--onto the train to get to Manhattan or south on the NJ Turnpike--you have to pass through the area surrounding the airport to get to any of the other lovely images I've posted today. And this is what you'll see:
That's the first impression you'll get. So people come to New Jersey--admittedly they're usually on their way to New York or Philadelphia and too cheap to fly into those airports--and when asked about the Garden State, their minds will flash onto the image above. (And we're not even discussing the smell.) When they could be seeing something completely different:
So what's the lesson to take away? If you're writing, make sure you start off at a gallop. Get something into your first chapter, preferably your first page (bookstore browsers are notoriously fickle and have short attention spans) that will grab the reader's interest and make your book a must-buy.
And consider the first words anyone will see online about your book. Think about how you want to introduce it. As Terri's post last Thursday points out, cover copy is written well in advance of the pub date. Be involved with your editor, the publicist on your book and anyone else on the team that creates the final package. Make the right first impression.
Be the Pine Barrens. Be Met Life Stadium. Be the Jersey Shore. Be Atlantic City, if you must.
Don't be Newark Airport.
Last week I delved into the history of the term mystery. A friend pointed out that the term detective fiction was probably first, and this turns out to be true. The OED has examples from the late 19th and early 20th century for the terms detective story, detective fiction, detective novel, and detective film:
I didn’t think I would ever again address the print vs. e-book issue in this forum, or any other. It seems to me that e-books have settled in as another format for reading, but are not going to replace my beloved printed tomes. Earlier this month, Erin Mitchell wrote about her preference for having copies of books in both formats, to allow reading most comfortably depending on circumstances. I had not been aware that some readers want this option, but it makes perfect sense. Reading is a pleasant activity. Why not make it as pleasant for yourself as possible? Erin’s comment that there’s not a right or wrong format for books is absolutely correct. To each his own, or to each, both.
I would dispute her statement that booksellers see the e-book as a threat; I think most of us know that they are here to stay and that there are plenty of readers who still want print versions. The threat is the predatory pricing of the print versions by certain retailers. The opportunity to sell e-books, or “bundles” of both is something we would welcome, but at this point the only truly viable option for doing that is to partner with a company whose track record of tolerating competition or any retail channels that it does not dominate is less than sterling.
Two incidents in the last few weeks have brought the e-book debate back to the front of my mind. The first was the latest round in ongoing Amazon/Hachette contretemps. I enjoyed the back and forth, the on-line comments, and the letters to the New York Times regarding the misunderstanding (misuse?) of George Orwell’s work as much as anyone. But in Amazon’s latest volley there was a more troubling comment. Several years ago, Jeff Bezos stated his determination to rid the world of printed books, which he considers an outdated technology that must be destroyed. I haven’t heard this aspiration from him for a while, and I thought he had come to an acceptance of the coexistence of the printed and digital word. Not so; he has reiterated his desire to do away with paper books. I resent him more as a reader than I do as a bookseller. Apparently, this quest has just been on the back burner until he has enough power to start the burning.
The other occurrence that brought me to the e-book world was a phone call from an author whose first book is being released next month and who wants to include my shop in his book tour. We set a tentative date, and the author offered to send an ARC for my Kindle. Fortunately, we had already had a lengthy conversation and I had positive feelings toward him. I explained that I did not have a Kindle, nor would I ever have one. I don’t think I ranted too much, but I explained that when he talked to independent booksellers, it might be best not make such an offer. We know that authors have to deal with the giant, and don’t hold it against them. But we can still make a stand in our small way. We settled on his attempting to get a version for my iPad, and within a few hours, the attempt was successful.
I haven’t read an electronic book for months, if not a year or more. I have started some on my iPad, and switched to the paper version because it is more enjoyable for me. If I am reading for a book group, or a possible review, I like to take notes. I know I can do it on that infernal keyboard, but I prefer a few pieces of scrap paper stored in the back of the book. I simply like the feel of paper over plastic and metal. But now I had a book for which I had only one option. On the plus side, I can read on my deck for a longer time as the light fades earlier and earlier in the evening. When I was annoyed the first time I tucked myself in bed with the reader because it was too bright, I recalled (it really has been a while!) that I could fix that. My husband finds it a lot less annoying than my reading light. On the negative side, as the eyelids drooped and the fingers loosened, I got whacked on the nose and startled awake. (I’m extremely nearsighted and hold the book very close when reading in bed.) The awakening reminded me that I should close the reader rather than let it rest comfortably until I rolled over on it. On the plus side again, it kept my place, saving some time the next day.
Knowing that most of the people I talk to about books are not a representative sample (they are, after all in my shop to buy printed versions), I decided to branch out a bit. I questioned my hairdresser. I know she reads voraciously and almost exclusively on her Kindle. She comes to my shop to buy gift books: board books for baby showers or Lean In for a young woman graduate, but never buys for herself. As she tried to make me look younger than my years, I asked why she preferred electronic reading, expecting answers such as “instant availability of the book I want” or “convenience of having several books at once and never running out.” The truth was a little different. I also asked what types of books she likes. She couldn’t tell me titles she had read recently, only that they cost 99 cents, and some were really good and some were really terrible. Even if I had electronic books on offer, I doubt that I would be her preferred retailer.
Technology gives us more options to enjoy the arts. It’s not an “either / or” limitation but a “both” expansion. I can stick to my preferred book format whenever possible, but I have access electronically to works which are not available on paper, whether they be long out-of-print classic mysteries or ARCs from an independent publisher. Those who find the e-reader more comfortable can download to their heart’s content. Those who switch between formats can have it both ways. Those who choose their reading by price have limitless possibilities. The only frustration with the current alternatives that I have heard expressed is from my patrons who do not have electronic readers, and who are “completists.” They see a list of their favorite author’s works in order, and wonder why they have not read No. “6.5,” which turns out to be a novella in the series, only available electronically. I explain the situation, and that the “book” would probably not have been published otherwise. They sigh and move on.
Film did not replace live theater. Photography did not replace painting. Recorded music did not replace opera, or orchestras, or rock band concerts. New technologies offer more availability, not less. Why then, does someone feel that his preferred format should eliminate all others? Perhaps because it’s the one where he has the best chance of total domination and control.
by Erin Mitchell
I have no problem admitting that when I first heard about the ice bucket challenge, I was skeptical. I figured it wouldn’t take off. I thought people would make videos rather than donate.
I was wholly and completely wrong.
But my point here is not to preach at you nor to address the multitude of concerns—both real and contrived—people have about the ice bucket challenge. I’m here to talk about marketing, and the ice bucket challenge is an ideal teachable moment for anyone wanting to market anything, especially books.
ALS is like a less-known book or author. It might have sounded familiar to some people because of Lou Gehrig, but far more had no idea what it is. It’s not cancer or diabetes, of which everyone is aware; I have Type I diabetes, and nobody has ever said, “Diabetes? What’s that?” I mean, there’s misunderstanding out there about well-known diseases, but for many, “awareness” is not a reasonable goal. That would be like Michael Connelly or Stephen King undertaking a brand-building campaign.
When anything “goes viral” (I hate that phrase), there’s talk about the “marketing genius” (and that one) behind it. The reality, though, is that no marketing person, genius or otherwise, can know with certainty when a campaign is going to work. I’ve seen brilliant ones fall flat more times than I can remember. But that doesn’t stop us trying.
The ice bucket challenge has certainly raised awareness—it’s gotten people talking about ALS and learning about it. But has it incited action beyond thousands of videos of people getting soaked with ice water? It has indeed. More than $53 million as I type this.
So what’s the lesson? First, that awareness and action are separate, and each has value. If, for example, you’re measuring your marketing activities only by book sales, you’re missing out. Likewise, if you’re not tracking marketing’s impact on sales, you’re doing it wrong. I think part of the reason the ice bucket challenge has worked so well is that it gave people a choice from the outset: donate $100 or dump ice water on yourself. It wasn’t set up to require one or the other for participation.
Compare this to pre-order promotional campaigns, most of which deliver minimal (if any) ROI. Those campaigns usually require readers to take one fairly complicated path: preorder the book, submit your proof of purchase, and wait to hear whether you’ve won. I’m much more a fan of recognizing that for the vast majority of consumers, books are an immediate-gratification purchase, and brand building in advance of a book launch is going to have a stronger impact on sales than a complicated preorder campaign.
There’s one more marketing lesson from the ice bucket challenge, too. Simply put, it’s that you need to be nimble in your marketing. If something isn’t working, stop doing it. In this case, if you’re still devoting time and energy to delineating all the reasons you think the ice bucket challenge is dumb and/or silly and/or stupid (It wastes water! It’s just people taking selfie videos! I just love being snarky!), you’re long past the point where you were doing yourself—or your brand—any favors. I’m not suggesting you participate, but don’t hold on to broadcasting your position to the point it drives readers—your customers—away.
Finally, if you haven't already, I suggest you read Ben LeRoy's post on this topic.
For the record, there is not now nor will there be a video of me involving ice water. I hate cold water. So I donated instead. If you would like to do so, you can at http://www.alsa.org/donate.
Scrolling through Facebook today I saw someone had posted a link to a Huffington Post article about the signs of being an introvert. See here: 23 Signs You Are Secretly an Introvert
I have know that I am an introvert for many years. As an incoming college freshman, we did the Myers Briggs test and I was nearly off the chart introverted. Several years later I took it again, thinking maybe I was just feeling extra shy in those early days of college. After all, I was nearly 1,000 miles from home and I didn't know anyone. Well, the second test showed once again that I am truly an introvert. Here are some of the signs from the article and how they play out in my life.
You find small talk incredibly cumbersome.
Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with them afterwards.
You actively avoid any shows that require audience participation.
You screen all your calls - even from your friends.
You have a constantly running inner dialogue.
I would add another one - you don't like to do anything that draws attention to yourself.
The first week in September, I will be attending a writer's conference. While there I will take pitches, do critiques, announce the winner of the mystery category at the banquet, and do two panels - one on editors and agents and one on publishing contracts. What does this mean to me?
Taking pitches is difficult. I sometimes get nervous. No reason for that as I do a ton of conferences. It's just part of the introvert thing. Talking to people. And I know that the person doing the pitch is also most likely incredibly nervous. All that energy is draining.
The critique session might be a little bit better. Or not. This will be a group critique so others will be talking, not just me. But it is a little unnerving. Another thing I read about introverts is that many of us have a lot of self doubt. As in, who I am to be giving these folks my opinion? Why is mine better the nexy guy's opinion? I feel terribly uncomfortable through most of this.
The announcing of the winner for the mystery conference? Not too terribly bad so long as I don't mess up anyone's name.
But here is what everyone will see - I put on my editor persona. I will talk to anyone and everyone. I am usually at the bar until it closes and up pretty early in the morning. I make friends with writers from different genres, talk business with agents and editors, meet with my authors, and check in with the conference organizers to make sure I am meeting whatever needs they have. At least once a day I will retreat to my room for a mental break - take a quick nap or watch some mindless TV. The rest of the time, I am on the clock, so to speak.
While confrences are incredibly draining, they also remind me why I love my job so much. Writers are the coolest people on the planet. A lot of them are introverts as well, which is why I think I can muddle through. The creative energy and excitement are awesome. I have also been able to arrange the timing so that I have been able to offer some people contracts in person. That is such an amazing experience.
So what is the take away of all this rambling? Be kind to each other. Events like conferences are stressful for so many reasons. And as a writer, you might run into an editor or an agent who is maxed out right at that moment. We are regular people, just like you, and conferences are hard work.
Also, don't expect me to answer the phone.