Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amazon Versus Publishers

Loads of people have said a lot of great things.  John Scalzi has a great conversation going on over at his kickin' blog.  I just wanted to put in my two cents.

The thing I want people to take from this debacle is that Amazon is NOT for the consumer.  Let me say that again:  AMAZON IS NOT YOUR FRIEND.  Amazon is a business.  They want to have the lowest prices in the market so that they can muscle the other competitors out.  Once they are selling the majority of all books, then they can negotiate more favorable terms with publishers.  Right now they're selling 9.99 books at a loss.  That's not sustainable.  But it doesn't need to be.  It just needs to last long enough for them to force publishers to sell them books for even less.

No matter what Amazon says, they're not standing up to Macmillan in order to keep book cheap for the consumer.  They are not David, and the big publishers are not Goliath.  Because, guess what, Macmillan isn't your friend either.  They, too, are a business.  They already work on razor thin margins, and they're doing their damnedest not to dilute the quality of their product.

Now, I know that there are lots of people who believe that any e-book above 9.99 is ludicrous.  I happen to agree.  However e-books are not publisher's primary source of revenue.  In an e-book only model, a lower price point will reflect the lowered cost of doing business.  However, right now e-books are part of the package that help offset the cost of printed books.  So maybe we'll be there one day, but that day isn't here yet.

The other reason a price point above 9.99 doesn't bother me is (aside from higher royalties for me) is that ebook prices will eventually settle at a price that the market will tolerate.  If a big book from a famous author comes out and the publisher prices it at 14.99, then people who really want it, will buy it.  Many will not.  And if enough people don't buy it, if they wait until the price drops, eventually publishers will adjust their prices to the appropriate price point.  That's the free market.  Publishers are allowed to set any price they want, and we are free to buy, or not to buy.

So to summarize:  A publisher frightened by the future + a dick move by a huge retailer = No good for the consumer.

If you want to let Amazon know that they shouldn't pull these kinds of moves, then show them with your wallet.  The same goes for publishers.  Because the only person looking out for the consumer is the consumer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Boys, Books, and the iPad

Personally, I don't think I'm going to buy the iPad.  Not right away anyway.  It's too limited, too much like a giant iPhone.  I love my iPhone, don't get me wrong, but I rarely find myself sitting around with it going, "Gee, I wish it were bigger!"  The things I would like to do on my iPhone (edit word docs and such) can't be done on an iPad.  Sure, they've released a version of iWork designed specifically for it, but iWork is pretty much like all my ex's:  everyone with a Mac has tried it, it's cheap, but in the end it's completely useless.

For me, the iPad does nothing particularly well that I don't already do better with another device.  I don't need a larger iPod.  When I want to watch TV I use my iPhone.  If I want a bigger screen, I go to my TV.  It's not portable enough to go to places like the gym.  I can't write on it like my netbook or do other stuff like on my laptop.  It hasn't got multitasking, so even if I could edit on it, I wouldn't be able to edit AND fact check.  For me, it doesn't fill a need.

However, I think that if we're going to reach new readers, especially reluctant readers, the iPad is going to be how we do it.  It's the kind of device that could take concepts like the Vook (interactive books) and make them something spectacular.  I'm never going to be the target audience for a backlit reading device because it hurts my eyes, but todays generation, and future generations, are going to be so used to reading on back lit screens (which continue to get better) that they won't have a problem reading whole books on devices like the iPad.

Imagine this:  You're reading a book about a boy on a rocketship.  And there's a little icon by the word "rocketship."  You click the icon and a page opens up with detailed diagrams of the ship.  Images from the inside.  You can view his flight plan.  There's even a game where you have to figure out how much fuel the ship needs to reach escape velocity before you can go to the next chapter.

I know this has been tried on computers before, but computers aren't cuddly.  You can't curl up with one on a rainy day.  You can't spend 8 hours outside on a cloudy day with one.

The iPad looks like it might be the first step toward changing that.

So, will I buy it?  Probably not.  (Yeah, I said the same thing about the Kindle and look where that got me)  But I think lots of people will.  And if the Big Publishers are smart and daring, they'll use their partnership with Apple and with this device to create a new kind of reading experience.  One not limited by ink and paper.  Because, to move into the future, we shouldn't be trying to replicate books, we should be trying to make them awesomer!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Reviews: Three Tenners

Tenner books have begun to hit the bookshelves and they're getting some really great reviews.  Recently though I've had the opportunity to read three ARC's of Tenner books that are NOT out yet.  And all I can say is:  wow.

ESCAPING THE TIGER by Laura Manivong (March 9) - ESCAPING THE TIGER is the story of Vonlai, his family, their escape from Communist Laos across the Mekong river, and their time in a Thai refugee camp. This book was both alien and familiar.  The book is skillfully flavored with Vonlai's culture without alienating the reader.  The themes of family and escape are powerful.  ESCAPING THE TIGER is exactly the kind of book I would have devoured as a boy.  I suspect it's going to be a classic.

EVERLASTING by Angie Frazier (June 1)- I freely admit that EVERLASTING is not the kind of book I would have bought for myself, however it would have then been my loss because Frazier's world is gritty and beautiful and enchanting.  EVERLASTING is the story of Camille Rowen's adventure to find her mother, a map, and a mysterious treasure.  A little bit Jane Austen and a little bit Indiana Jones, this book was fantastic.  If Disney doesn't snatch this up and make it into a movie, it'll be our loss.

THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS (March 15) by Jacqueline Houtman - In a note on the inside of this ARC Jacqueline wrote, "Great minds don't all think alike."  And that's the true message of THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS.  This book really resonated with me as I think it will resonate with anyone who's ever felt confused or different.  The story is about Eddy, a boy who is a little different.  The character of Eddy is handled so masterfully.  It's frustrating to watch Eddy not get some of the things that are happening to him but so much more satisfying to watch him figure them out later on.  Quite frankly, this book is amazing and I can't recommend it enough.

I have an order coming from Powells with all of the Tenner books that have come out to date and when I've read those, I'll put them up as well, but these three books should go on your "TO BE PRE-ORDERED IMMEDIATELY AND WITHOUT FAIL" list.  And maybe I'm a little biased, but that doesn't mean they're not absolutely amazing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blog Chain: The Voices in My Head

My characters are who I am when I'm alone.

Welcome to another blog chain.  This chain was brought to you by the fantastic Sarah.  This time around she wants to know:  How did you discover your particular voice as a writer?

Way to pick a hard topic, Sarah!  Character voice is that X factor, that intangible quality that means the difference between good and great.  For example, I really like Lord of the Rings.  But I LOVE the Hobbit. Why?  Because of the voice.  To me, Tolkien's voice in The Hobbit is much livelier, more authentic, and a blast to read.  LoTR reads more like a history book.

Whenever people tell me I'm funny, I always tell them that I'm not funny.  I'm boring.  It's my characters who are funny.  But I remember when I realized the truth about voice.  I was struggling through my first YA manuscript.  It felt stilted and boring and stuffy.  I picked up Stephen King's book ON WRITING.  There's a lot of good advice in that book but the one bit that set me free was to always be honest.  I can't remember what the exact wording was, but the short of it was to always be honest.  Never hold back.  If a character sees something and would puke, then let him puke.  Let them cuss, let them be authentic.

When I read that, I thought over it for a while.  I absorbed it and it really did free the voice in my head.  That YA book still sucked, but the next one, the one about a boy obsessed with porn, masturbation, and boobs who only had one day to live, is the one that sold.

I'm not sure that's helpful to anyone else trying to discover their own voice, but there it is.  Everyone's got a voice, they just have to be honest and set it free.

For more on voice, check out the pre-teen boy voice of the amazing BJ who wrote yesterday's post and then tomorrow head on to Cole's blog and see how many voices she's got in HER head (my bet's on 15).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Give This Book to a Boy You Know

I've been having fun reading the comments about my post earlier in the week.  As I mentioned then, I have the beginnings of an idea.  It's months from being ready for implementation but I wanted to talk about it now because in order to make it work I'm going to need help.

First let me describe the problem:  Simply put, literacy among boys is abysmal.  There is anecdotal evidence that boys are still engaged in reading during middle school but that that drops off in their teens.  Teen boys are criminally underrepresented in YA.  Publishers don't see any money in that segment of the market and they devote only a small portion of their resources to it.  Which causes teen boys to be even further alienated.

Now, teen boys are out there.  They're interested in entertainment.  They drive entire segments of the entertainment industry.  Without them we wouldn't have movies like G.I. Joe or Transformers or Final Destination.  They also drive video game sales and music sales.  But they make up such a small portion of the book market that one has to wonder:  why?

The only answer I can think of is that we're simply not giving them books they're interested in.

Now I'm not saying that there are no books for teen boys, but for every Spanking Shakespeare or The Maze Runner, there are fifteen books for teenage girls.  Every time I go to my local Barnes & Noble, I look for books that would jump out and grab teen boys.  But all the tables and face-outs and displays are decidedly geared toward the segment of the population that's doing the majority of the book buying, and that's not boys.

Before it looks like I'm being down on books aimed at girls, let me say that I'm not.  I read widely and I think that everyone should read widely.  I think that there are books marketed as girl books that would appeal to boys.  However, it must be kept in mind that boys might be more sensitive to reading something that looks like it might get them made fun of.  When I was in middle and high school, I sometimes tore the covers off of the fantasy books I was reading because I was afraid someone would see the cover and I'd be tormented.

Even books with male protagonists that would appeal to boys are marketed with covers that might be embarrassing to a teenage boy.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I want to bring boys back to the table.  I want them to read.  I want them to be involved in shaping the literature that's being created, because right now is an amazing time for YA.  But how?

That's where my idea begins.  And the idea is Give This Book to a Boy You Know.

What is it?  I'm not even fully sure yet.  And that's where I need help.  My goal is to create a program that harnesses the internet, word of mouth, the wonderful librarians and teachers of the world, to help boys find books that speak to them.  Because those books are out there.  And once publishers see that boys ARE reading, that they DO have opinions, then they'll be more inclined to take chances.  Just look at all the fantastic books that publishers took a chance on because of the Twilight phenomenon.  You can't fault them for going where the money is, and we just have to prove that boys are just as important to their bottom line.

My idea is really grass roots.  I'd like for there to be a tracking system similar to Book Crossing.  Say I read a book that I think a boy would really dig, I can go onto a website, review it based on criteria that boys would find appealing, and then pass the book along to a boy who I think would enjoy it.  Inside that book is a Give This Book to a Boy You Know sticker, so that the boy to get the book can log-in and review it, and so we can see how it's faring.  This website would become a tool for librarians and teachers and parents to help reluctant boys find books that appeal to them.  And it would also help boys show other boys what books they're reading and find books for themselves.

Are there already other sites out there that review boy-oriented books?  Yes.  And they're great.  But I want to take it further.  I want reviews by boys for boys.  I want to get adults invested in getting books into the hands of every boy they know.  Because I think that once we show boys that there are great books that speak directly to them and the time of life they're in, they'll rejoin the conversation.

And there's another aspect to what I want to accomplish.  Because it's not just about helping boys find books they want to read.  I'm not sure how this aspect will work, but I'd like to begin finding ways to get books into the hands of those who just can't get them.  Boys in juvenile detention centers, foster care, shelters, schools with little or no budget money for books.  Wherever there's need, I'd like to try to fill it.

So, is this ambitious?  Heck yeah.  But no one ever got anywhere good by aiming low.  Have I got any idea how to go about doing this?  Heck no.  But I have knowledgeable friends and a lot of passion.

How can you help?  Well, right now I'm trying to figure out how all this is going to work.  Over the next couple of months I'll be talking to librarians and teachers and parents and kids.  I'll be trying to find out the best way to accomplish my goal.  And if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them as well.  Because it's going to be people like you all who help this plan succeed.

Sometimes it feels like people have given up when it comes to boys and literacy.  But I don't buy that.  I just think we have to give them a reason to want to read again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The State of Boys and Books

When I was in middle and high school, I read a lot.  More than a lot.  I was a machine.  I read every book I owned at least three times.  Mostly I read fantasy novels by authors like Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan.  I read a lot of other stuff too, but Fantasy was my comfort genre.  Why?  Because many of the stories were about young men with humble beginnings who were destined for something more.  I was looking for characters I could relate to and fantasy offered me stories of heroes without a clue.  Stories of young men stumbling their way through life, just trying to do the right thing.

Back in those days, I never stepped foot near the YA section.  I suspected that there might be books that spoke more directly to what I was going through.  Even in my early twenties, books like that would have spoken to me.  But I didn't know they were there.

It's no secret that boys are falling behind in literacy.  Seemingly they read middle grade fiction like Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, but then they disappear.  Sometimes they go off to non-fiction and sometimes, like I did, they go to adult books.  But more often, they just give up reading.  Why?  I believe it's because they don't see themselves represented on the bookshelves.  When the MG stories begin to feel a little too young for them, and they turn to the teen section, they see stories dominated by emo bad boys and the girls who love them.  The covers are nothing but pictures of shirtless men or vacuous groups of kids or headless girls.  Even the books that are aimed at young men are feminized in order to appeal to girls because they are the main purchasers of Teen lit.

A terrible cycle is created.  Boys don't buy books because they don't see themselves represented, so less books are published for boys because they're buying fewer books.

The bookshelves become dominated by stories written by and for girls.  Now, I should put in my disclaimer here that I'm not speaking absolutes.  And I also find much of the teen lit written for/by girls to be quite good.  But I'm an adult and no longer read YA to relate.  I read it to enjoy.  But when I was a teen I was looking for books to relate to.  And for boys, it's a wasteland.

There are really three problems:

1.  Authors, seeing the lack of potential for boy-aimed YA lit aren't writing any.
2.  Publishers (who I understand are in this business to make money) buy boy YA books but then do very little to promote them.  Then they use lack of sales to prove that there's no money in boy-oriented YA.
3.  Drawing boys back to the table is a daunting and difficult process.  We simply haven't given them any incentive to try Teen lit again.

Is there any one person to blame?  No.  Authors have to eat, publishers have shareholders to answer to, and boys don't want to dig through the mountain of vampires and werewolves to find one book that appeals to them.

So what's the answer then?  I don't know.  I'd really love to see a publisher take a chance and spend as much on promoting a cool boy oriented series as they do on the newest trend for girls.  I read about the amazing marketing plan my own publisher put together for Becca Fitzpatrick's HUSH, HUSH.  They went to showings of New Moon and handed out books, they put up ad's during the movie.  And it worked.  HUSH, HUSH has been doing really well (congrats to a fellow Tenner!).  I'd like to see that same kind of enthusiasm put into great boy-oriented series'.

But I also think we need to go beyond that.  One advertising campaign won't be enough to bring back the boys we've lost and it won't be enough to keep from losing anymore.  There needs to be a continued effort to write and publish and support great boy books for teens.  There needs to be a way to get those books into their hands.

And for that, I have the beginnings of a plan that I'll discuss more about later this week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Blog Chain: 2010 Writing Goals

Welcome back to a blog chain for a new decade.  The wonderful BJ asked:

What are your writing resolutions for the year 2010?

I've spent a lot of time thinking about that.  Last year, I was riding the high of signing with my agent and having a book out on submission, and my goals were far more than I was able to achieve.  This year, I have the release of that book (selfless plug: The Deathday Letter coming 6/15/2010) and I know that I'm going to want to spend as much time as I can really making sure I'm getting out there and getting to know people. So that's part of my goal. I want to spend more time reading widely, and getting to know my readers and other writers.  Not because I want to sell more books, but because the relationships I've made over the last year through this blog chain and on Goodreads and through The Tenners, have made me really appreciate this whole process and have helped me grow as a person and a writer.

For actual writing, I'd like to finish revising the middle grade novel I wrote for NaNo.  I also would like to finish the YA that I'm working on. Finally, I'd like to finish a first draft of a book called The Great Leap Forward.  It's kind of a pet project of mine, but it's something I really want to do.

So that's it.  Oh, and one more thing:  I also resolve to enjoy the ride.  Because no matter where you are in your writing, it's never any better than the minute you're living in.

Go ahead and see what Michelle and BJ had to say before me, and tomorrow, check out M.C. Hammer Cole

*mumble-mumble* I bought a Kindle

Welcome to 2010--The Year of the Tenners!  Don't know who the Tenners are?  Go check them out: The Tenners.

The Kindle.  If you've been reading the blog, you know that I am strongly opposed to the device.  Not really the device, but the way they're trying to use it to dominate the market (and the way publishers are allowing them to).  But that's not what this post is.  You can search my old posts and find at least two on my hate for the Kindle and the Nook.

This post is about why I bought both.  My Nook won't be here until February, but my Kindle has been in use for a week...and I am in love with it.  I'd marry it if I could.  I'm not going to sit here and extoll the virtues of the Kindle.  It's everything everyone says it is.  And I can't say anything about the Nook except that I also bought it so that I wouldn't be chained to Amazon's draconian DRM.  But it's ease of use, and weight and ability to buy many books in seconds, that's not why I bought it.

I bought it (and kept it) because I'm poor.  That's right, I'm poor.  I'm a poor, starving artist.  Okay, I'm not starving, and I'm not poor, but I'm thrifty.  I also do revisions on my own manuscripts by hand.  I print them out, sit at a desk with a red ink filled fountain pen, and revise.  I do that because it forces me to make revising a two-step process.  I make changes on the actual page, and then I make more changes when I enter the changes from the page to the computer.  It's a good system for me, but it's also expensive.  For example, right now I'm revising a book called UNDO Button.  It's about 300 printed pages.  By the time I've got it in shape to let my agent look at it, I'll probably print it out 5 times.  That's 3 reams of paper.  Probably an entire new toner for a printer, and a lot of red ink.

But with the Kindle I'm able to load my 300 pages to the device, make notes, and then sit there with the Kindle and enter the notes like I'd do with a printed copy.  Is it perfect?  No.  The notes are kept in a separate file on the Kindle, so if I want to get them off the Kindle, they're divorced from the text they're notating.  That's obnoxious.  But I used it to do my first read through of UNDO Button, and it was brilliant.

I'm hooked.  I've seen the future.  I probably won't use it to buy a lot of books until the publishers work out this whole stupid mess with pricing and DRM and such.  But I have a feeling that all that will change.

So color me a convert.  What do you all think?