Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Darkness Calls

I'd honestly never heard of Marjorie M. Liu before, but with praise coming at me from all directions at the office, and as a New York Times bestselling author, I figured I should give her a chance. It was pretty convenient too when one of her books, Darkness Calls, showed up on the take-shelf near my cubicle.


"Demon hunter Maxine Kiss, inked with living tattoos, is on a mission to rescue the man she loves from a bloodthirsty army. To save him, Maxine has only one choice: to lose control-and release her own powers of darkness." [Penguin.com (usa)]



In general, I like to read series like Liu's in order, starting at the very beginning. But I also find it incredible helpful to throw myself into the middle of a series on occasion, to check out the author's skills at world building for new readers when he or she has already established a solid world with solid rules in the previous x-number of books.Unfortunately, in this case, I was a tad disappointed.

I found Liu's voice to be engaging and sometimes full of dry humor (which I thoroughly enjoy). Her main characters were strong and had distinct voices--Maxine has a lot of potential as a heroine, for sure. So clearly, there are some great pieces here; I can see what makes her so popular. But I was disappointed, as I said, by the lack of clarification on a lot of points. Most of the book left me baffled and raising an eyebrow. I didn't know what the rules of the world were, how people related to each other, or even what exactly was going on. Even after finishing the book I don't think I got it.

I also struggled with the amount of description Liu used in her writing. Sometimes she hits the nail on the head--I can see exactly what she's trying to show me. But more often things were over-explained to the point where there were so many images in my mind that I couldn't see anything clearly. Even the demons that live as tattoos atop Maxine's skin (which is a really cool concept, by the way) were confusing. At times they seemed like eels. Others they were little goblin-like creatures. I just couldn't figure out what they were supposed to be and look like. As a result, I had a difficult time believing in their abilities, power, and significance. If I can't understand how something is happening, it's hard to actually believe it's happening. I do have to give her writing props though for her ability to navigate gory and dangerous action scenes--they were realistic, imaginative, and made my stomach lurch, just as intended.

The Last Word: A unique, creative, and complex concept that would be best served by more clarification and less assumption.

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's On Like Donkey Kong....in the 1920s.

Once more, guest blogger Dan Cabrera steps up to send me some Friday Fun from Gawker today.

Given my recent obsession with Donkey Kong Returns for my Wii, it's also very, very fitting. Probably why he sent it to me in the first place but ya know ;) It doesn't hurt that I also happen to love the classic novel to which it refers.

Check it. If you enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald and/or video games, you're going to love it.

For all you literary gamers out there, two tech-savvy literary nerds have created an 8-bit video game version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's great American novel The Great Gatsby get ready to waste your entire afternoon.

Like the Nintendo games of yore, this is a two-dimensional platform game where you use your keyboard to control Nick Carraway, the novel's hero, as he winds his way through Gatsby's party, the train out to East Egg, and other challenges I'm not yet adept enough to discover. On the way you collect coins, cocktails, and cute outfits while throwing money at butlers, flappers, and drunkards.




See the complete posting HERE

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

UPDATE: Borders Stores Closing Due to Bankruptcy

We've heard that 30% of Borders stores will be closed after they declared bankruptcy this morning. Now, we have a listing of the exact locations.

Check HERE to see if your local store is getting a final farewell.

Borders Declares Bankruptcy

Industry insiders have been biting their nails this week waiting for Borders to declare bankruptcy. And this morning, it happened. And just like the death of a sick relative or the inevitability of a dreaded presentation, no matter how prepared for it we are, it still hits us hard.

Publishers Lunch sent out a special email this morning with the details:
Borders formally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Manhattan Federal Court, listing total debt of $1.29 billion and supposed assets of $1.275 billion. Among the top 30 unsecured creditors listed in the filing, book publishers and distributors are owed roughly $230 million (see below for the full list).

The bookseller says in an announcement that it "has received commitments for $505 million in Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing led by GE Capital, Restructuring Finance. This financing should enable Borders to meet its obligations going forward so that our stores continue to be competitive for customers in terms of goods, services and the shopping experience." For customers, they expect to honor the Borders Rewards program, gift cards and other customer programs and they expect "to make employee payroll and continue its benefits programs for its employees."

The company says they had 642 stores open as of January 29. In their press release, they say they expect to close "approximately 30 percent" of those stores, or roughly 200 locations, "in the next several weeks."

Ken Hiltz has been named senior vice president - restructuring of the company. Named advisory firms include Jefferies & Company for financial and restructuring services; DJM Property Management for lease and real estate advisory services; and consultants AP Services for interim management and restructuring services. The company intends to "finalize and implement a store closure, store liquidation and lease modification plan" as already discussed and approved by their board.

President Mike Edwards addresses the obvious in the release, "It has become increasingly clear that in light of the environment of curtailed customer spending, our ongoing discussions with publishers and other vendor related parties, and the company's lack of liquidity, Borders Group does not have the capital resources it needs to be a viable competitor and which are essential for it to move forward with its business strategy to reposition itself successfully for the long term." Elsewhere, the announcement perpetuates the company's illusion that they are but one more step away from a turnaround into "a stronger and more vibrant book seller."

The publisher creditor list comprises:

Penguin $41.1 million
Hachette Book Group $36.9 million
Simon & Schuster $33.75 million
Random House $33.5 million
HarperCollins $25.8 million
Macmillan $11.4 million
Wiley $11.2 million
Perseus $7.8 million
F+W Media $4.6 million
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt $4.4 million
Workman $4 million
McGraw-Hill $3.1 million
Pearson Education $2.8 million
NBN $2 million
Norton $2 million
Zondervan $1.9 million
Hay House $1.7 million
Elsevier Science $1.6 million
Publications Intl. $1.1 million

Readers will recall that we recently tried to frame the coming Borders bankruptcy in the context of the AMS bankruptcy from late 2006. In that filing, the 40 largest publisher creditors were owed $220 million, topped by Random House, which was owed $43.3 million.

See the post on Publishers Marketplace HERE

Now, that's A LOT of dough.

It's intriguing (and a little funny in a sad way) to me how no one outside of the book biz knew this was going on. Inside, we've all been watching Borders steadily decline for years, their debt piling up exponentially, but they've still been a significant part of our business. Somehow they were able to cover it up for the public, a big secret that I wouldn't have expected to be kept so quiet for so long. But under wraps it is no longer.

Borders put out some extra details today too, claiming that "business operations continue as normal." But while their rewards program remains in effect, stores are staying open, online orders are still being processed, etc., nothing is really "normal" about this occurrence. And I can't help but think that this will go one of two ways: either shocked consumers will be motivated by their upset and rush to Borders, trying to help pick up the slack and get the company out of the red zone, or they will be outraged that Borders let it all get so out of control and pull their loyalty completely.

I'm hoping for the former, but I guess my cynical nature is expecting more of the latter...

What effects do YOU think this big news will have on the industry?
RBtL wants to know!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy Friday! here, Have a Smile :)

Happy Friday, friends! I hope you're having a good end to the workweek.

If you aren't though and need a little smile, guest blogger Dan Cabrera sent me a couple adorable book-related links this morning to Hipster Puppies. Yes, that's right...Hipster Puppies.



So cute! Thanks, Dan!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Self-Published E-Books On the Rise

There's been a lot of buzz lately about self-published e-books making their way up the bestseller lists. It's not necessarily a new fad; a number of books that are now published traditionally have hit Kindle lists as self-pubs. But two books in particular that came out of Amazon self-pubs have been brought to my attention in the past month: The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver P√∂tzsch and Lee Chadeayne, and Switched by Amanda Hocking.

Both of these titles, released in December and November respectively, were on the same 10-ten list on January 4th. How, I thought, how on earth did both of these books hit the list with names like Steig Larsson, Elin Hilderbrand, John Grisham, and James Patterson?

After some extensive research, I came back with little. There were no real book campaigns for either of these titles, there wasn't much to explain their success, except for word-of-mouth. Word of Hocking, in particular, has been spreading like wildfire.

And this morning, the Hocking fire that was being casually stoked seems to be exploding as if someone has upended a girnormous bucket of gasoline on it. It seems this ambitious self-pubbed author is about to hit the USA Today list, according to Carol Memmott, a reporter for the paper:

You may not know her name, but Amanda Hocking and others like her are riding the comet of digital publishing.

Fed up with attempts to find a traditional publisher for her young-adult paranormal novels, Hocking self-published last March and began selling her novels on online bookstores like Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com.

By May she was selling hundreds; by June, thousands. She sold 164,000 books in 2010. Most were low-priced (99 cents to $2.99) digital downloads.

More astounding: This January she sold more than 450,000 copies of her nine titles. More than 99% were e-books.

"I can't really say that I would have been more successful if I'd gone with a traditional publisher," says Hocking, 26, who lives in Austin, Minn. "But I know this is working really well for me."

In fact, Hocking is selling so well that on Thursday, the three titles in her Trylle Trilogy (Switched, Torn and Ascend, the latest) will make their debuts in the top 50 of USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list.

A recent survey shows 20 million people read e-books last year, and more self-published authors are taking advantage of the trend.

(Self-publishing is done without the involvement or vetting of an established publisher and uses a publishing system such as Lulu, Smashwords, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing or Barnes & Noble's PubIt! Many traditional media outlets do not review self-published books.)

"It's possible for any author to make their book available with little or no upfront cost and reach a global audience," Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle Content for Amazon, says of Hocking's success. Digital publishing, he says, "gives a chance to a great book that otherwise might have been overlooked."

In the past, it has been rare for a self-published hardcover or paperback to enjoy such spectacular sales.

Hocking credits her success to aggressive self-promotion on her blog, Facebook and Twitter, word of mouth and writing in a popular genre — her books star trolls, vampires and zombies.

And she's making money.

"To me, that was a price point that made sense for what I would be willing to spend on an e-book," says Hocking, who sets her own prices. "I use iTunes a lot, and it's 99 cents and $1.29 a song."

For every $2.99 book she sells, she keeps 70%, with the rest going to the online bookseller. For every 99-cent book she sells, she keeps 30%.

H.P. Mallory, another self-published paranormal e-novelist, has sold 70,000 copies of her e-books since July. Her success caught the attention of traditional publisher Random House, with whom she just signed a three-book contract. "Selling e-books on Kindle and Barnesandnoble.com basically changed my life," Mallory says. "I never would have gotten where I am today if I hadn't."

Others are profiting, too:

The No. 4-selling Kindle book (it has been as high as No. 1) is The Hangman's Daughter by German novelist Oliver Potzsch. It's part of AmazonCrossing, a program offering translations of foreign-language titles. More than 100,000 copies have been sold.

• Novelist J.A. Konrath, who has sold more than 100,000 self-published e-books, gets more than 1 million hits a year on his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing (jakonrath.blogspot.com). His novel, Shaken, hit No. 9 on the Kindle list last year.

Lorraine Shanley of Market Partners International, a publishing consulting firm, recently enjoyed Deed to Death by D.B. Henson, a self-published e-book she downloaded to her iPad.

The 99-cent price made her try it.

"Often books published by traditional publishers are excellent, but I don't think it prohibits self-publishers from doing a good job," she says.

See the article HERE

Clearly, the concept of self-publishing is becoming something much more valuable than many industry execs expected. I'm interested to see what comes next...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Penguins list of 10 Essential Classics is a Heartbreaker

Even people who hate to read seem to have at least one classic novel that they love. At least that's what I've seen in my experience.

My little sister (now 22), for example, hated reading for a long, loooong time. It wasn't until she read Of Mice and Men at my incessant prodding that she actually started to enjoy it. Now, I can usually convince her to read books pretty easily. Not that she reads a ton, but that one classic made reading a positive experience for her.

So, I was intrigued when Penguin released its list of the top ten "Essential Penguin Classics." And I was, quite honestly, disappointed with the picks listed:

Where are the edgier classics? Farehnheit 451? Slaughterhouse 5? Lolita? Of Mice and Men, my sister's fave?

It breaks my heart a little to see that all the books voted on here are on the fluffier side, nothing really dark. Sure, most of them are from the Romantic Age--a period that tends to be broodier than it sounds--but still. Not exactly books I would categorize as life changers or thought provokers.

What book do you wish made this list?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

NYT Bestseller Lists Finally Catch Up to Digital Market

With the popularity of e-books is on the rise it only makes sense for the New York Times to catch on.

Starting February 11th (online) and February 13th (in print), the creators of the famed bestseller list will carve out a place for the "e-book category," according to Publishers Lunch Deluxe:
The NYT's first-ever e-book bestseller lists will appear in print on February 13 and online on February 11 (reflecting rankings for the week ending January 30), as the paper previewed for publishing people at an event this morning. Not only will the paper publish a separate e-book list, but there will also be a hybrid print and e-book bestseller list. A spokesperson said the paper "wanted to provide more comprehensive lists of which books are selling."

Unlike USA Today's approach, the hybrid lists give no indication of whether e-books outsell print editions; a note on their methodology says only that "until the industry is more settled, sales of e-book titles will not be weighted." (This week, 16 of USA Today's top 50 titles sold more units electronically than in print.)

The new NYT lists also skew predominantly to the biggest publishers. Again, the fine print explains why. Print and e format sales are "reported by venues offering a wide range of general interest titles" but specifically exclude "self-published books including single-vendor self-published titles" as well as these genres: "perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, comics, crossword puzzles."

In other words, the standard rules for the NYT's magic bestselling formula apply, and then some. The self-publishing exclusion currently seems to incorporate Amazon's own titles (their Crossing imprint's translation of The Hangman's Daughter was No. 2 for the week ending 1/31 on the etailer's own list) as well as electronically self-published titles--or else, if you are a suspicious person, the NYT has determined that those titles are disproportionately boosted on Amazon's own list, or cannot be "verified" as the paper says it does with publisher data. (By comparison, the mock bestseller list created by Publishing Trends earlier this week includes many strong-selling self-e-published titles, with three by Amanda Hocking alone. Hocking does not appear anywhere on the NYT's lists.)

The paper does note the lists are a work in progress, stating that, in contrast to a "well-established" reporting of print book sales, "The universe of e-book publishers and vendors is rapidly emerging, and The Times is keeping pace, looking for new ways to account for growing parts of the industry, including tracking exclusively digital self-published titles." The NYT also says sales of advice and how-to e-books and children's e-book titles "will be tracked and ranked at a future date."

As you might expect, James Patterson's TICK TOCK tops both the print and e-book fiction bestseller lists, and thus, also the hybrid bestseller lists. The top seven fiction sellers on the e-book and hybrid lists are identical, with the only significant difference Susan Wiggs' MARRYING DAISY BELLAMY, which makes #8 on the hybrid list, but just #18 on the e-book-only list. There's a bit more variance on the non-fiction side, with the top 4 sellers the same on both lists, while Justin Halpern's SH*T MY DAD SAYS ranking higher (#5) on e-book only than the hybrid list (#8.)

For some further analysis, we reproduced what Amazon's top 20 fiction titles would look like for nearly the same week (in their case ending 1/31 instead of 1/30) if you followed the NYT's parameters and omitted Amazon's publishing program, other self-published books, children's titles, etc.

Going by that comparison, it appears as if the NYT is also throwing out books boosted by heavy price promotions that have them selling for under a dollar. (Amazon's top title by Lisa Gardner, along with Katriena Knight's deep-discounted ebook do not make the NYT list at all.) Six of the top 20 NYT ebestsellers are discounted by Amazon, at under $6:


Amazon/NYT Comparison list
1. Alone, Lisa Gardner (#1 Amzn; -- NYT) (promo price)
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (#5 Amzn; #2 NYT) $5
3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stieg Larsson (#6 Amzn; #4 NYT)
4. The Girl Who Played with Fireo, Stieg Larsson (#7 Amzn; #4 NYT) $5
5. Tick Tock, James Patterson (#8 Amzn; #1 NYT)
6. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen (#9 Amzn; #5 NYT) $5
7. Summer at Willow Lake, Susan Wiggs (#10 Amzn; -- NYT) $5
8. The Confession, John Grisham (#14 Amzn; #6 NYT)
9. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese (#16 Amzn; #7 NYT) $5
10. Towers of Midnight, Robert Jordan (#24 Amzn; -- NYT; pubbed 1/31)
11. Where There's a Will, Katriena Knights (#25 Amzn; -- NYT) (promo)
12. Room, Emma Donoghue (#26 Amzn; #9 NYT)
13. The Help, Kathryn Stockett (#27 Amzn; #8 NYT)
14. Cross Fire, James Patterson (#28 Amzn; #10 NYT)
15. Secrets to the Grave, Tami Hoag (#31 Amzn; #14 NYT)
16. Dead or Alive, Tom Clancy (#32 Amzn; #13 NYT)
17. Hell's Corner, David Baldacci (#33 Amzn; #17 NYT)
18. Marrying Daisy Bellamy, Susan Wiggs (#35 Amzn; #18 NYT) $5.49
19. Strategic Moves, Stuart Woods (#38 Amzn; #12 NYT)
20. What the Night Knows, Dean Koontz (#39 Amzn; #11 NYT)

The NYT's combined print and ebook list is more similar to USA Today's approach--except that they still parse fiction and nonfiction, and observe the NYT's other exclusionary rules (adult titles only, etc.) Bearing in mind those broad differences, here are the few titles that stand out as ranking appreciably higher on USA Today's combined print and ebook list than the NYT's. All three are romance novels, which generally rank higher on USA Today's list, which may incorporate Wal-Mart data alongside other common sources:

4. Marrying Daisy Bellamy, by Susan Wiggs (No. 8 NYT)
7. Wild Man Creek, by Robin Carr (No. 12 NYT)
13. Here to Stay, by Catherine Anderson (No. 23 NYT)

See the original post HERE