Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prelude To A Scream - Erratic Cycles

I recently posted the full audio version of my short story "Erratic Cycles" in my Prelude To A Scream podcast. It appears in Episode 15. You can subscribe to the podcast for free via iTunes and all the other regular places.

"Erratic Cycles" is the story of a lawyer stranded on a lonely stretch of Highway 144 in Northern Ontario at nightfall. Stuck with nothing but memories of his childhood and thoughts about how his life has become one big recurring monotonous routine, he is forced to face a long-buried childhood fear of the dark and being alone. That, and deal with the fact he is convinced someone or something is watching him from the dark woods.

It was originally published in 1999 and was nominated for an Aurora Award in 2000 in the category of Best Short-Form English. Within the podcast I talk about how the story had evolved from first draft, through many different re-writes, including some critical re-writes based upon editorial suggestions from editors who had rejected it.  This highlights, to me, how important a role an editor can play, even when the editor isn't the one who ended up buying your story.

You can listen to the full story online or download the mps, but I thought I'd offer a quicker teaser to the opening of the story here.

Erratic Cycles
Mark Leslie
(Originally published in Parsec Magazine, 1999)
(Reprinted in One Hand Screaming, 2004)

Charles Dean Webster, attorney at law, sat very still in his '89 Toyota Tercel, frustrated over his predicament. Something -- he had no idea what -- had happened to his car. First there had been smoking and hissing and then the car had stopped running. That was the extent of his knowledge about what was wrong with his car. He was a lawyer, not a mechanic.

Dammit Jim, I'm a lawyer, not a mechanic.

He looked at his watch, taking his eyes off of the forest for only a very short time. It was a quarter past nine. As he lifted his head to look down the barren stretch of Highway 144, he caught the glare of the setting sun in his rearview mirror.


He slammed a fist against the dash and then sat back once more and stared out the bug splattered windshield at the deserted highway.

Why my? he asked, and was quick to find an answer.

Why not you?

This was going to be your big case, your first major success, your big break. This was going to be the case that not only brought you a handsome sum but spread your name across the country. After winning this one, you were finally going to be someone.

So why not you? If you continue to believe such stupid glorified dreams, then why not you? Face the facts, schmuck: This is just another case.

And, being just another case, it had been nothing but a pain in the ass from day one. Getting stranged on a lonely highway somewhere between Sudbury and Timmmins was just par for the course.

He looked at his watch again, but only a minute had passed since he'd last checked it. His eyes quickly returned to the wall of forest which ran never-ending along both sides of the highway. He couldn't shake the feeling that something was watching him from the forest.

No, not something, he corrected himself.

The Bush People.

(Excerpt from "Erratic Cycles" © 2004 Mark Leslie Lefebvre - you can listen to the entire story for free here, or get the story (and the whole rest of the book One Hand Screaming as an ebook for a mere $0.99 in a variety of convenient formats, for Sony Reader, iBook, Kobo)  If you prefer physical copies, the paperback is still available and retails for $12.95 through all the usual places)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Get Outta Here Ya Bum!

Avert your eyes, children!  Even though we ALL have one, you might never have seen a naked bum before.

There's an award winning book featuring a great bare bum on the cover that's causing a bit of a controversy. The Great bare bum is the naked butt of Alexander the Great, on Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean, which is a fictional account of a time when Aristotle was tutoring Alexander the Great. The cover features a naked man lying on a horse.

B.C. Ferries has decided to remove this book from its shelves because they are a "family show" and have children in their shops.  This decision has raised much discussion in the past week or so about the art vs family appropriate.  My favourite article is from The Guardian in which their title is Alexander the Great novel gets bum wrap in Canada.Their title is a beautiful reference to the fact that B.C. Ferries asked representatives at Random House to include a "belly band" wrapped around the book, which would cover up the offended naked butt.

Of course, as a bookseller, it makes me want to find a whack of covers featuring naked bums on the cover and put up a themed display. Yes, books whose only common feature would be a cover featuring naked bums.  At the centre of the display, of course, Lyon's book would be featured prominently.

I did a quick search and was really trying to find a nice collection of literary/contemporary fiction that featured naked bums on the cover. I did a quick check and came up mostly dry, though I did find a small group of bums from a variety of other books, including a how to Artist book (that was easy, there's no shortage of those), a classic science text and a science-fiction title featuring the naked bums of both a human and alien.

But I'm sure there are more out there.  Why not have booksellers take advantage of the controversy, and put together their own "naked bum book" display -- again, featuring Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean smack dab in the centre of the display?

Of course, the trick is finding a definitive list. Even the great lists provided by Bowker or Ingram featuring various themed groupings of books don't include a "naked bums on the cover" list.  We'll have to generate our own and share it around.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

HNT - Exhaustion

Earlier this week, Alexander was suffering from a nasty bout of "sore tummy" -- it seems to be a virus that is going around and lasts about 72 hours. The worst night was Tuesday night when he simply could not get comfortable enough to get to sleep no matter what we tried, and when he did, he slept in 10 to 15 minute installments.  I think I got perhaps 2 hours of sleep in total that night, which isn't too bad, because I normally only get about 5 hours of sleep.  However, that extra 3 hours really DO make a difference.

Yesterday, the entire family was exhausted.

In fact, it reminded me a bit of the summer of 2004, when Alexander was first born, and sleep was something we all got little of during the night. So, whenever Alexander was taking a nap, Francine or I would take turns napping with him.

We have lots of pictures of us napping in the afternoon with Alexander. Here are a couple from August 2004.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seth Godin Abandons Traditional Publishing

Seth Godin recently announced that Linchpin was the last book he would publish the traditional way.

"Traditional book publishers use techniques perfected a hundred years ago to help authors reach unknown readers, using a stable technology (books) and an antique and expensive distribution system. The thing is--now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn't help me or you." (Seth Godin, Moving On, Aug 23/2010)

It's funny, before I read Linchpin, when I was listening to a podcast interview with him, he was talking about that book being his life's work, it made me wonder what he was going to do next.  I rather enjoyed Linchpin and was worried that he might not publish another book.  I enjoyed every single one of Godin's books that I read, and, fortunately for me, there are still a few for me to pick up. It doesn't matter if some of them were published almost 10 years ago. They're all still quite relevant.

Godin is a smart guy, and has online connections with an endless supply of readers - so I'm sure that whatever he embarks on it will be successful. But a part of me (and not just the bookseller part of me) is disappointed to see him abandon the publishing industry.

Here's why:

My introduction to Godin which was just a few years ago, was when a friend handed me a physical copy of Permission Marketing and said: "You have GOT to read this!" I did. That act turned me into a fan who needed to go out and start reading as many of the man's books as I could get my hands on. I also started following his blog and listening to interviews of him or Godin speaking via online video and podcasts. But I kept reading his books.

The main disappointment I had was the fact I bought an ebook version of Linchpin through an e-reader that I don't use very often. The experience of reading the ebook was a good one, but my biggest frustration is that I can't now refer to passages that I made notes in (the reader allowed me to write in the margins, add typed notes, etc, so it was a pretty fancy ereader), because it's currently not charged up. Whereas, within reach, I can grab a copy of Permission Marketing and easily flip it open to a particular passage and quote from it, or, better yet, put it into the hands of a friend and say: "Take this and read it!"

Yes, I "get" where Godin is going and why he is deciding to do this - but I'm disappointed that this new path might very well lead to the loss of one of the wonderful ways in which the man's great thoughts and ideas are shared and cultivated. After all, there's a whack of great content online but books themselves are often linchpins when it comes to the mass sharing of ideas outside of the digital/electronic realm, because they allow for focusing in on a very specific set of ideas, such as the ones that Godin spent over a decade sharing with the world via the book.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Everything Is "With" Not "Instead of"

When looking at the impact digital is going to have on things such as publishing, books and other print media, really smart people have been saying things like "everything is with not instead of" (Mitch Joel, March 27, 2010) or that "things just add on" (David Pogue, June 18, 2010).

In fact, many more people like Joel and Pogue have made similar statements. I could repeat them all here, or, instead, offer a couple of quick examples of this happening.

A few months ago, I found a cool online video showing how a publisher, Ubimark Books was using 2D or QR codes embedded within a book to offer the reader some great opportunities to connect with other readers, get quick access to online content and enhance the reading experience.  My favourite thing about this was the fact that each chapter of the first book they have created for "Around the World in 80 Days" by Jules Verne includes a link to an audio recording of the chapter on LibriVox, (LibriVox is the brainchild of Hugh McGuire in which people submit audio recordings of public domain novels - the goal, to make all public domain books available as free audio books).

I'm proud to say that after a great conversation with Ubimark's Dr. Sorin Adam Matei, Titles Bookstore at McMaster University is the very first bookstore in the world to carry these books (which we print on demand on our Espresso Book Machine)  To find a copy, just browse our Literature section and there right in the V's you'll find this special Ubimark edition of "Around the World in 80 Days" on the shelf.

And along the lines of enhancing a physically printed object, here's a video I recently discovered on a ReadWriteWeb article written by Chris Cameron in which a German publisher has built in augmented reality features connected to a magazine that can be unlocked with the use of a free application on your smart-phone.

Just like a series of novels following a continuing cast of characters in which you can read a single book without having to read the others, (but those who have followed the entire series get a bit more out of it) this magazine offers the usual standard to readers it always has, but then adds a special extra something to readers who want to explore some enhanced augmented reality using a smart phone.

These are just two examples of how new technology can add on to existing ones and make them more exciting and dynamic rather than killing them or wiping them out.

I'm keeping my eyes peeled for more examples of this.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bradbury Gets Rock Star Treatment

Ask speculative fiction authors who their inspiration is, and many will come back and tell you that they marvelled at the short fiction of Ray Bradbury, who was one of the first writers who inspired them to want to tell their own tales.

Similarly, ask fans of science fiction for a list of some of the "must read" classics within the genre, and inevitably, a common name popping up would be Ray Bradbury with more than one of his novels or short story collections making the list.  (See list of Bradbury's books here)

So, while Bradbury is often highly acclaimed by writers and fans alike, it's "unstereotypical" for an author to get the treatment normally reserved for rock stars.

Enter, Rachel Bloom, actress, writer, comedian and her video "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" which beautifully changes that.

This is definitely not safe for work, and, as the title suggests, contains adult content and language.

But what a hilarious and wonderful tribute to a man who has added so much to the world of speculative literature and culture.  And if this video makes even a single person pick up and read something by Bradbury, then it also makes the world a better place . . .

Friday, August 20, 2010

Death's Excellent Themed Anthology

I was pretty excited to recently receive a review copy of Death's Excellent Vacation edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner.  It was also fun to read part of the book while actually on vacation. For a lover of speculative fiction, what better thing to read then a themed anthology of all original tales of paranormal R&R?

On top of that, I'll have to admit that I've never read a Sookie Stackhouse novel nor have I seen the TV show True Blood, so I was pleased to be able to finally read a story from that universe. (The anthology includes a never-before published Sookie Stackhouse story) This taste of the Stackhouse universe makes me even more intrigued to pick up the novels.

This was a fun and mostly refreshing anthology with tales of travel and vacation that kept this reader turning the pages to see what was coming next. While I was initially disappointed that there wasn't an actual story about death taking a vacation, I quickly got over that because the tales included were quite wonderful in keeping with the spirit of the anthology's theme without being repetitive.

Admittedly, though I enjoyed getting to know Sookie through the very interesting Sackhouse story "Two Blondes" by the time I was about 80 pages into the anthology I was getting a little tired of the gorgeous, charming vampire hanging out with either a mortal with supernatural powers, or a recently converted mortal. I've never been a huge fan of vampires and have to admit that the concept of a charming and pleasant vampire has grown old with me. (On the flip side, the terrifying and nasty creatures in Justin Cronin's novel The Passage -- the "virals" who are essentially vampires, were interesting to me, because it seems like a long time since vampires were disturbing and frightening creatures of the night)

There were some great and interesting stories here, and my favourites include Toni L.P. Kelner's "Pirate Dave's Haunted Amusement Park" which is a tale about a werewolf on vacation teaming up with a pirate/vampire to save a long-running theme park. Yes, I was okay with this particular vampire because it worked really well with the way the story was set up. I was also quite fond of the interesting and compelling gargoyle tale by Lilith Saintcrow called "The Heart is Always Right."

"Demon in the Dunes" by Chris Grabenstein might be among the best stories in the collection due to the classic "ghost story" manner in which the story of memories of youthful indiscretions on a beach is unfolded. "Meanwhile, Far Across the Caspian Sea" by Daniel Stashower was another fascinating and unexpected tale (this one about the world of copywrighters and editors) that caught me by surprise and offered an interesting and fresh element to the collection.

I was pleased to read the A. Lee Martinez tale "The Innsmouth Nook" about a couple of newcomers setting up a bed and breakfast on a small coastal town as well as the intriguing look at aggressive journalism in the face of a family's suffering in Jeff Abbott's "Safe and Sound."  And finally, "Thin Walls" by Christopher Golden was a wonderfully disturbing horror tale with a satisfying self-reflective resolution.

It's rare that I enjoy so many of the tales within an anthology, so am quite impressed with both the range and quality of the tales that Harris and Kelner put together.  In all, this is an excellent book to read, whether you're about to embark on a bit of a vacation or if you just want to escape back into the thought of getting away for a little while.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

HNT - Friday Gathering

Last Friday evenng we had a few families over so the kids could play in the pool and the adults could enjoy some fun summer BBQ time.

This week's HNT shot is from that fun night.

Each new BBQ reminds me that summer is gently slipping away, and, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, that leaves you with nothing, mister, but boring stories of . . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Bookstore Without Books?

Via Twitter, a publishing friend and visionary, Dominique Raccah, forwarded me an interesting article from Publishing Perspectives.

The article, entitled "Could You Run a Bookstore With Just an Espresso Book Machine?" asks an interesting question.  As someone who "owns" and operates an Espresso Book Machine at Titles Bookstore, McMaster University, it's something I've long thought about.

After all, along with using the machine to work with publishers to reduce the cost of required textbooks, one of the reasons I was eager to get the EBM installed in our store was the thought that, with access to millions of POD titles, we'd finally have a distinct advantage over online retailers. Sure, Amazon could ship the book in 24 hours - but we'd be able to get it for you in 15 minutes.

Of course, as it stands right now, the catalog I have access to contains somewhere in the realm of 1 to 2 million titles. (Every week thousands of titles get added and I haven't received an official count in a while, so I'm taking a guess - for all I know, it could be closer to 3 million by now)  Sure, that's a phenomenal title count, far surpassing the 30,000 to 40,000 books we normally keep in stock.  But in the grand scheme of title availability, it's still just the tip of the iceberg of selection that will be available through the EBM POD channel. (Yes, one of the challenges of being among the first stores to get this technology is waiting for the industry to catch up)

And while I still believe, as the catalog expands and more publishers provide files through the On Demand Books/POD channel, that vision of access to almost everything will become a reality, I still wonder at the concept of being able to run a bookstore without having ANY books in it. (And for now I'll simply ignore the fact that the current inception of the EBM produces only trade paperbacks, and not hardcovers)

There are many titles that we produce on our EBM that we keep stock of on our bookshelves right beside the books we've received through traditional distribution channels. Why? So that customers can discover them while browsing. That's one of the common joys customers moving through the physical space of a bookstore continue to marvel at -- the serendipitous nature of discovering something completely unexpected.

I can thus imagine a bookstore that perhaps has a small stock of selected titles -- perhaps Bestsellers, some of the top selling items in a few different categories/genres, some local interest, locally authored/published titles -- and, of course, a sample of some of the 10+ million titles available on the Espresso Book Machine, combined with a customer-friendly browseable kiosk with randomly rotating product information pages on screens inside the store to entice customers to want to check them out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sales Ranking On Amazon

You won't find me bragging about sales ranking of OHS
I find it interesting how focused an author can be about their sales ranking on Amazon. Entire 2.0 campaigns have been centered on everyone buying a particular book on a particular day in order to increase the sales ranking on Amazon.

It goes to show you that, despite the fact I manage an independently operated bricks and mortar bookstore and have mucho admiration for the sales data analysis offered to Canadians via BookNet Canada's Sales Data (or Nielson BookScan in the UK and the US) I'm still impressed with the instantaneous and openly visible nature of Amazon's ranking.

It's too bad, though, that the focus for ranking highlighted by authors is often with a single retailer, rather than on the market as a whole.  And, at that, with a single retailer who has yet to host an author event, book signing, or other real-world event designed to support and promote an author.

Given that BookNet Canada's SalesData includes sales information from a variety of retailers within the Canadian market - a healthy selection of independent, chain and other retailers, both bricks and mortar and online, you'd think that a high sales ranking within BNC Sales Data would be preferable.  Of course, the trick is that, unlike Amazon's sales ranking, there's no place to actually see the sales data (with the exception, perhaps, of the Globe & Mail Bestseller List), nor is that information "live" to subscribers. So it's difficult for an author to get any sort of immediate feedback that their "promo/marketing campaign" is working.  (It's just the nature of the beast - BNC collects their data from thousands of points of sale and spends a great effort importing and sorting the data collected. It's no easy task to get such an authoritative collection of data.)

What I'd love to see is a campaign by a Canadian author to get their titles ranked high no matter WHAT retailer they purchase their book from. It would likely involve their publisher willing to let the data numbers be known openly for a specific title within a certain time period, and participation from the good folks at BNC. But I imagine it could be possible.

Imagine authors focusing a campaign to go out and buy their book all in a specific time period (since BNC collects and "publishes" its data weekly) by sending them out to their own favourite local bookstore, rather than a single retailer?  Imagine a focus on buying it in as many places as possible, rather than channelling all sales through a single retailer?

I know the challenge of collecting and sharing the data for a campaign like that is pretty daunting.  But wouldn't that be a cool thing to see?

Monday, August 16, 2010

An Interesting Twist On No Drinks Allowed

Photo © 2010 Melissa Koehler Photograph
I've been a bookseller for long enough to remember a time when it was common to see "no drinks allowed" signs posted near the entrance to most bookstores.

Of course, that mentality changed a bit when the big box stores that included a Starbucks inside started to pop up in the mid 90's.  Given that, when these stores first sprung up, they were filled with tables, chairs and even armchairs and couches, the whole idea seemed to be: "C'mon into the bookstore, and hey, don't worry about bringing food or beverages inside - all of that is welcome. In fact, if you didn't bring any, there's a convenient place for you to buy some."

There was, perhaps, a bit of a backlash after the explosion of "coffee is welcome" into bookstores.  I mean, I've seen more than my fair share of customers putting their drink down the wrong way ON TOP of an expensive ART or PHOTOGRAPHY section of books. (Murphy's Law dictates they'd spill their latte down the most expensive books in the store rather than on a section of mass market paperbacks)

But now, it's just as likely you'll see a "no drinks allowed" sign as you'll see a bookstore with a coffee shop enclosed. (In Hamilton, you might see a "Yes, that includes Tim Hortons too" note added to the "no drinks allowed" since it's almost a requirement that you walk around with a cup of Tim's when you live in this fine city - I hope nobody catches me, because right now I'm walking around with a cup of coffee made inside my home . . . . I might get ousted if too many people find out)

But I still find it interesting to see a complete flip on the whole "coffee allowed in bookstores" issue.  On The New York Times blog, Nick Bilton writes about how books aren't allowed in a particular coffee shop in Manhattan.  (Okay, he's talking about e-books, they being a type of computer)  His article is entitled "No E-Books Allowed in This Establishment" and it certainly raises an interesting question -- if it's okay to sit in a coffee shop and read a book, why isn't a person allowed to sit and read an e-book?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday The 13th Rib Recipe

Years back, Francine and I started a tradition with our neighbours. Feeling the urge to do something fun and interesting on Friday the 13th (based on how cool we thought it was that people with motorcycles converge in Port Dover on that date), we started holding "Hot Luck" parties.

"Hot Lucks" were basically "Pot Lucks" in which people brought their favourite hot and spicy dish to share. It was a fun gathering of chilli-heads.  The invite was wide open and more of a "you're all welcome, please just drop in" sort of affair. We went from having as many as 40 people to as few as 5 (that was the year of the Great August blackout of 2003 - but we were cheating a little, since that was a Friday the 14th)

We've toned those down over the years, and in the past little while haven't held the gatherings that would run into the wee morning hours. (Yes, having a six year old changes things up a little)

Of course, our afinity for hot and spicy food hasn't gone away.

So, in memory of those great gatherings, here's a recent VERY EASY rib recipe we've grown fond of. And it's not killer hot, just has an extra touch of heat but tons of flavour.

  • Boil ribs for 60 minutes (this can be done ahead of time with ribs kept in refrigerator)
  • Place ribs on low heat on BBQ
  • After about 10 minutes, coat the ribs with a thick layer of BULL'S-EYE Chicken & Rib Renegade sauce. Wait a few minutes, then turn and add more to other side. (This sauce will cook into the ribs)
  • Continue to let cook on low for another 10 minutes.
  • In the final 15 minutes of cooking, add a thin layer of President's Choice Smokin' Stampede Beer & Chipotle sauce to both sides of the ribs. (This sauce will add a new sticky layer to the ribs, and only be half-cooked into the existing sauce)

I've found that the combination of these two sauces adds a delightful flavour to the ribs with just enough heat and is very simple to prepare.  Of course, back in the day, I would have likely sprinkled the ribs with Blair's Death Rain rub before adding them to the grill, or mixed in a few drops of Da Bomb Beyond Insanity hot sauce. But that was back when my buddy Chad and I used to try to hurt one another by making a killer over-the-top recipe that would make your eyes water, your nose run, and give you hiccoughs.  We don't do that as much as we used to (not too often, at least)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

HNT - Beach Birthday Party

This weekend, some good friends had a birthday party at the beach for their son. The party started at the beach then moved on to a BBQ in their back yard.

It was a lot of fun and a great way to spend the afternoon. It was overcast and actually rained a couple of times during the day for perhaps a couple of minutes at a time, but that didn't stop any of the fun the kids and adults had at the beach and BBQ. If anything, the questionable weather meant the beach was less crowded than it usually is on a weekend in the summer, so our group could really spread out.

Here's a candid picture of Francine and I that was taken as we had first arrived and were setting up our stuff on the beach.  That's Lake Ontario in the background, BTW, and the pier that leads up to the lift bridge between Hamilton and Burlington. Alexander was quite delighted when we got to run down to the bridge when it rose to let a couple of gigantic ships into Hamilton Harbour.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Fine Balance

I like balance. I like weighing pros and cons.

Thus, I like the fact that ReadWriteWeb posted two almost back to back articles, both written by Richard MacManus.

5 Ways That eBooks Are Better Than Paper Books

Sure, I can sum up this article, but you're best to click the above and check it out. MacManus lists things such as social highlighting, notes, immediately look-up of words (ie, built-in dictionary), as well as search.

This article was retweeted 505 times and liked by 135 people on Facebook and had 29 comments from both sides of the paper/ebook fence) at the time I'm writing this post.

Photo Credit: "1984...meet DRM" (edited by Mike Vroegop & Joshua Bonnain)

5 Ways That Paper Books Are Better Than eBooks

In this article, MacManus sums up things such as the feel of a book in your hands, the actual packaging (harking to the loss of the feel of the "art" put into a book's full cover), and the ability to share, resell or actually KEEP the physical object.

This article was retweeted 85 times, wasn't liked by anybody on Facebook (until I clicked the Like button that is), and the first comment mentions that books don't run out of batteries. (To be fair, this post is only 4 hours old so likely hasn't been seen by many people in their RSS readers, etc)

I'm a believer that new technologies have a definite and welcome place in our culture, but that they ADD TO the existing technologies and cultural artifacts rather than completely replace them.  So I'm very pleased to see MacManus, though he heads up a technology blog, recognizing the fact that there are benefits to both, depending on what's important to the consumer.

In my ideal book world, eBooks and printed books will both prosper and live in harmony together, each offering customers the things that are most important to THEM in their reading experience.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whoops, One More Added. Yikes, There's Another

"Pile of books" by hawkexpress (via Flickr)
Google recently did a book count that came to about 130 million.

Well, 129,864,880, to be precise.

There I go exaggerating again. I launch into hyperbole millions of times a day.

Interestingly, there were some very precise measures and determinations that allowed them to get to that number, which you can read about on their blog. In a nutshell, they counted "distinct intellectual or artistic creations." (One must consider, of course, that there would be a need to extend the definition of intellectual a wee bit in some cases -- of course, that's where the convenience of leaning towards "artistic" can cover more bases) But, all joking aside, there were some complex considerations put into the count.

130 Million books out there already, eh?

And here I thought my "to read pile" was already big enough.

At this rate, I'll NEVER be caught up on my reading.

Monday, August 09, 2010

How Not To Write A Book

There's a lot of advice out there for folks on how to write a book.

But in a recent blog post, Chris Brogan (new media marketing expert, speaker, and, yes, author of a couple of books) turns the advice on its head and instead outlines ten easy things a person can do in order to help them NOT write a book.

He follows the 10 easy steps on how not to write a book with 5 steps on how to write one.

I won't re-create the lists here - Brogan does a nice job with his own and it's best to read the original.  But what he does quite nicely is illustrate the ultimate truth.

Writing a book takes work. Hard work. And commitment. A lot of commitment. And time. Lots of time, whether it's long stretches that are socked away or quick snippets of stolen moments in an already packed day. And one of the first steps in getting a book written has everything to do with the act of putting one word in front of another and constructing sentences that become paragraphs that become pages.

No magic tricks, no easy way out of the actual work involved in writing, editing and selling it.

It's work. Fair and simple.

Friday, August 06, 2010

When Being Mayor Actually Means Something

WhThere is an interesting article on ReadWriteWeb by Rob Cottingham which talks about Foursquare and mayor-ship.

In a nutshell, Foursquare is one of several different mobile device applications that encourages people to explore their neighbourhoods and other places they travel by "checking in" when they are actually in a particular location (using the GPS technology in their mobile device).  Checking in involves different badges and fun "rewards" such as becoming the mayor of a location when you're the person who checks into it most often.

You can see who else is checked in there and also read comments and tips that other users might have left.  (Tips might be recommendations about a particular product -- at restaurants, it's offen a suggestion about a particular favoured item on the menu)

Cartoon by Rob Cottingham / Noise to Signal

Cottingham talks about giving the mayor of a location in Foursquare real power.  He mentions there are places that offer $1 off coupons for a latte or something similar. But what if a business were to offer something really cool and unique? And this doesn't mean just something monetary based.

If you are a business owner and have a profile on Foursquare, what cool thing would you give to the mayor? Again, it doesn't have to be a physical commodity worth actual $$, but perhaps a cool experience to make people fight over who becomes mayor.

As a bookstore person, I had a few ideas. Sure, a coupon, discount or some other thing could be offered. But people can get great discounts on Amazon. Why not give them something they simply CAN'T GET at Amazon? And one thing you can't get from Amazon, nomatter how broad their selection and how convenient their shipping is, is actual physical presence. (Try checking in to Amazon on Foursquare or another location based application. Oh that's right, you can't --)

Perhaps if the person who becomes mayor is an author (most likely a local author to be able to gain the mayor seat), we might prominently display a feature wall/end unit with their books and a sign saying "Lawrence Hill is the current Mayor of Titles on Foursquare - check in now!" (BTW, Larry lives in our neighbourhood and I'm just using him as an example - in all honesty I'm not sure if he uses the Foursquare app, but he has been to our store enough times that he'd be in the running for mayor)

What if the mayor was allowed to have their own end display/wall display in your bookstore featuring their very own favourite books?

Other fun things we could do at Titles Bookstore that wouldn't cost any money would be to allow the mayor a chance to print their own book on our Espresso Book Machine. Given that the machines are still rare, it's a fun experience that they'd be able to tell their friends about -- they not only watched a book come off the machine, but they got to hit the buttons to make it happen.

What other fun things could a business owner offer to give a Foursquare mayor a real prize?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

HNT - New Glasses

A couple of weeks ago luggage was stolen out of my truck in downtown Toronto.

In the incident, I ended up losing my glasses.

No, I don't wear them all the time -- just in the evening before heading to bed and in the morning before I shower (or if I have a really bad cold/flu and my eyes are sensitive and need more of a rest)

So I thought I'd do an HNT shot this week that show my new glasses.  (Along with a book that's on my ever-growing "to read" pile.)

(For those interested, the book is a new anthology edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner called Death's Excellent Vacation - Tales of paranormal R & R -- and it includes a Sookie Stackhouse story, which I'm looking forward to reading.  Just as soon as I can find some R&R time, paranormal or otherwise)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

One In Four Didn't Read A Single Book

I've regularly heard the following fact bandied around -- that 25% (or 1 in 4) people in the United States didn't read a single book last year.

Not. One. Single. Book.

I know I don't read as much as others, am a slow reader and constantly have a "to read" pile much longer than my arm, but this statistic boggles my mind.

I suppose it might be like walking into your average "all you can eat buffett" and loudly declaring that the portion of meat you're supposed to consume at a meal should be no larger than your palm or a deck of cards. To the audience hearing that statement, it seems obsurd -- so very very unlikely. (In a case like that, you might actually incite a fist fight)

But then again, that's the world I come from -- I come from a world in which reading books is the norm, so of course it'll boggle my mind.

The other day a friend of mine said that he was currently reading a book on budgeting and that he hadn't picked up a single book since high school. It simply stunned me. He is a smart guy, his wife is a voracious reader and his kids are both into books. He simply has had no interest. It makes me wonder if there's something within our school systems that end up putting people OFF books. I remember not so long ago returning to read books I was supposed to read in high school but never did because, well, because they didn't interest me (and yes, I've always been into books, so it wasn't that I didn't like reading) -- But when, as an adult, I picked up these books and read them I thought: "Wow, this is so good. Now I know why this book is being studied." But then I also thought:  "Wow, this would have bored me to death if I read it when I was 14. I'm so glad I read it at 21, or 31, or, sigh, 41."

Josh Christie recently posted a neat list on his blog that might help people not be a statistic. Entitled, Small Books with a Big Punch, he put together a list of books less than 200 pages.

It made me wonder what shorter books I might recommend to help the cause. I'm still noodling on it. I'm sure I've read plenty of shorter books that I loved, but I'm drawing a complete blank right now, other than Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town which I loved and which is about 150 pages. (Of course, that was something that was forced upon me to read when I was in University - thought I did quote love his writing and humour). Stephen King's Carrie comes in at a low page count (the collector's edition trade paperback I have is 152 pages, while the mass market version is 245)

Or, perhaps, if I could suggest just a SINGLE book to someone to read so they fall out of that statistical 25%, what would it be? (The answer, of course, would vary depending on their tastes, preferences, etc)

What shorter books would YOU recommend?  Or, failing that, what SINGLE BOOK have you read that would make your list?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Value Of An Editor

Last week I wrote a blog post about an interview I recently did with Kelley Armstrong. During the interview, Kelley talked about the great relationship she has with her editor at Random House and how, though when she gets back work with edits there is a slight disappointed that her writing isn't perfect yet, there's also a good feeling to know that it's all part of the process to make her writing, her story even better.

Seeing how flat the publishing world is becoming (and even being a partipant in some of that with the Espresso Book Machine I operate at Titles Bookstore), I think it bears pausing yet again to look at the value an editor plays. I can talk, endlessly, about how often, as a writer, my own work had been made better whenever paired up with a decent editor, but I'd rather look at what some others have recently said about the value of an editor.

The Cite blog recently talked about the value of editors in which they mention an IBM study that showed a 30% marked improvement on a specific call to action related to clickable web links when edited pages were compared to non-edited pages. Dr. Mark Nelson's blog post on this topic suggests that while it's difficult to measure and analyse the value of the editorial process, publishers should contemplate how to present the pivital part they play in the industry much more prominently.

Digital Book World also had an interesting article about How to Measure the Value of Editors. They mention that even if editors don't make changes, just having that second set of eyes being able to offer a different perspective allows writers to relax and create better work. They also go into detail about the same IBM study that attempts to actually measure the value of an editor

But alas, the value of an editor is not something that is easily measured when it comes to something like fiction writing. Perhaps those who recognize the benefit that a good editor can have on their writing should sing their editor's praises, the way Kelley Armstrong does.