reading


Another salvo in the changing battlefield of publishing shows that innovative and tech-saavy authors can win an audience and eventually a publisher. This article titled “Podcasting Your Novel: Publishing’s Next Wave?” reports on a fast growing trend that I have known about for a while.

I am addicted to audiobooks. If not for them I would never walk the dogs or go to the gym. I discovered Podiobooks when they first came on the scene. In the beginning there wasn’t a lot of selection, mostly scifi and some of that pretty awful. As they grew in public awareness they drew new authors too and began to post more books in many genres, and some of them really good. All of them were by novice authors, or authors completely unknown to me. Most probably never published traditionally.

Two authors really stood out though, J.C. Hutchins with 7th Son and Scott Sigler with Infected and Earthcore. J.C. Hutchins in particular produced an audio drama that rivaled anything Hollywood might produce, and a darned good thriller. All for free. Why give it away? Well, read the article. These two have a loyal “listenership” and now are on the bestseller list for real money. Kudos and congrats to them both.

Incidentally on the article the writer asserts that the audience is/was mostly young male scifi geeks. I’m not sure that was true, after all I’m an older woman. I’ve listened to books on tape on car trips and when walking or exercising for years and years. By the way you can also listen to many many old books that are now in the public domain also for free on Librivox. These books are recorded by volunteers so the perfomance quality varies, but it’s painless way to catch up on those classics of literature you’ve always meant to read.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the audiobook will completely supplant the ink and paper book anytime soon… at least I hope not. But, I am in favor of authors getting their work out there and finding an audience. It’s a moment of change, and change can be scary. It will all shake out in time and anything that helps authors and readers connect can’t be bad.

nytlogo153x23Today, the New York Times published an article by Motoko Rich entitled “Self-publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab.” It’s a pretty realistic look at a new world in publishing. Below is my opinion on this situation.

It had to happen, critical mass has been reached. That, and the model practiced by major (mainly New York) publishing houses has at long last proved to be unsustainable. More and more books are published every year in this country, yet the cost is born by those very few “mega-blockbusters” promoted as such by their publishers. Yet by all accounts there are fewer and fewer readers of “books” each year. But readers, when polled don’t always count reading done online, or on other electronic devices, nor audio books as “books.”

Are we witnessing the death (or severe winnowing) of print publishing in the traditional sense of mass marketed ink on paper books, verses the many other delivery methods being explored? It’s hard to say. As a cover/book designer, I surely hope there will still be significant demand for that singular intimate experience that only the visually pleasing, tactile and physical book can provide. After all, that’s my livelihood, and my passion.

As for the new surge in self-published titles of varying quality and aesthetic appeal, I suppose that it’s a great thing for those who want  to share their stories with a few people. But I hope they don’t harbor unrealistic illusions about striking it rich and appearing on Oprah. For every talented newbie writer, and or compelling story that successfully uses this method to springboard to fame and a wider audience when picked up by a big name publisher, there are thousands that languish in obscurity. If fame and fortune were their aim, they may have been better off robbing a bank—infamy seems as marketable these days.

Evidence supports that this can be done though. First, they had to have a good product, but they also had to spend considerable effort, and dare we say a few bucks, in getting the word out about their book(s). I don’t think any self-published titles (with the possibility of rare exceptions) ever got picked up by a publisher without first establishing some significant and verifiable sales. No doubt there are some roses out there in the mass of stinkweeds. Or as Cathy Langer of the Tattered Cover in Denver said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”

What of paying the tab? Mr. Rich doesn’t really get in to the gritty details except to offer $99 to $100,000 as the range of costs involved. Well, that’s mighty big range! If we’re talking print on demand (POD) I’d sure like to know what the author is getting for $100,000! Can you say writer’s beware? I have looked at the so-called “custom covers” many POD “publishers” offer and frankly your baby would be better off making its debut in a plain brown wrapper.

I’m paid to put the lipstick on … whether they are pigs or natural born beauties. And I do it most happily. So all you self-publishers out there, give your natural born beauty its best chance of thriving in this very crowded marketplace. Let me do the cover. (Even e-books need covers.) I can unequivically guarantee you it won’t cost nearly $100,000.

So no post in a while. Busy, busy. I am writing a YA novel in my spare time and it got me to thinking about epilogues and prologues. I have written a prologue to my story and I wonder what readers think about such things? For my story I think it sets the scene and tells something about the main characters. However, it’s not vital to the story. I haven’t thought as far out as an epilogue yet!

Sometimes epilogues add something vital, or wrap up a nagging loose end that wasn’t completely tied up in the ending scenes. This seems fairly common especially in thrillers, and sometimes in historical fiction. I for one thought the epilogue added at the end of the last Harry Potter book was utterly unnecessary and frankly, dumb. But I gather JK Rowling felt compelled to set all those “shippers” straight about who ends up with who, etc.

In Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy the final, final, final scenes in the Shire were cut from the movies, and the Return of the King could have ended with the crowning of Aragorn and the hommage to the four little guys and I would’ve have been very happy and balling my eyes out. But no, it went on, and on, and on … and on. Purists, forgive me, but really they poured the treacle on a bit heavy.

So I’m curious. Do you like epilogues or prologues? Or would you rather the writer just did a bang up job of ending the story on the right satifying note … you don’t want to know what happened next, or maybe you want it in the sequel? Prologues? Do they slow down the story? Should the author just plunk you down in the world he/she is creating and get on with it? (This is an excuse to try the polling widget. So please try it!)

My girls and I had a lovely evening at the Neil Gaiman event last night in Boulder. I’ve been a Neil Gaiman fan since reading (well really listening) to American Gods, and then seeing Mirrormask, so perhaps I came about my fan-girliness sort of backwards. By the time I became a fan, Neilhimself was already a seasoned and mature author. And while I had seen and marveled at (no pun intended) his graphic novels in the Sandman series, I’d never purchased or really read one. But apparently I’ve been misled.

When we arrived at the event a half-hour early, there was already a line of folks 2-3 abreast snaking all way round a rather large church building. As we passed by on our quest to find the end of the queue, I noticed that the first half consisted mainly of younger (under 40ish) people dressed all in black, gothic style. I expect that I was among those in the minority looking quite midwestern and matronly by contrast. I didn’t even know we had that many goths in Boulder. Perhaps they normally only come out at night.

Our position in the line was as it turned out was only about three-quarters back and later-comers (looking even more parochial than me) uncoiled out further into the back parking lot. But it was fortuitess in that Mr. Neil arrived and walked right through the line by us to enter the back door, slowing briefly to exclaim that we’d be let in directly after the sound check. And yes, he’s just as handsome in his way as his pictures.

Anyway at some point during the intro the Sandman books were mentioned at which point the goths cheered loudly, so that explained that. There were in this large church auditorium I’d guess around 600 people, perhaps more.

Neil began the reading by giving a brief “story so far” recap of The Graveyard Book because he is reading in a nine city tour all eight chapters of the book in order. I’ve never heard of this being done before. It’s quite ingenious—and he is video recording each chapter and posting them to Mousecircus where you can watch and listen to the entire novel for free! (For a limited time of course.) You can also purchase the audio or print version of the book there. If you’re going to buy it online, do it there rather than at Amazon, the author and publisher will get more of the profits that way. But back to the reading…

Neil explained that because chapter seven was so long that folks in L.A. got the first half and we’d be getting the second half. He explained that he’d ended in L.A. on a bit of a cliff-hanger and to appreciate this you really need to listen to the recording. Let’s just say that at the end the hero of the story was about to be very, very dead. Neil claimed that this was not planned, but the exact middle of the chapter ended with these words: He straightened up. The hand that had been in the hole in the floor was holding a large, sharp knife. “Now,” said the man Jack. “Now, boy. Time to finish this.” The response of the crowd was a resounding, Nooooo! And then Neil read to us for the better part of an hour more. The reading was very enjoyable, Gaiman reads with wonderful characterization and one can imagine him sitting his little writing gazebo staging his characters in spoken dialogue as much for his own enjoyment as for facilitating the writing.

After the reading, we were treated to excerpts from the new movie Coraline based on Gaiman’s book. The movie is being done by the people who did Nightmare Before Christmas and all in claymation. It looks like it will be very good—and fun to look at. Following that he answered a stack of audience questions. Mine was, “How do you find time to work on new work when you are out on tour?” To that he answered that he often finds snippets of time and it’s best for him to write on airplanes, because they do not as yet, have Internet service. Apparently the web is quite the distraction for Mr. Neil. I can relate. Another question that elicited lots of audience titters was “Do your fans creep you out?” He related a charming story about one particularly creepy, but so not scary fan at Comic Con…but over all says that no, you lot are quite nice, actually.

And after that, we were among the first to hear him read a new children’s book, Blueberry Girl, a poem he wrote for friend Tori Amos’ baby girl a few years back. The book was in page proofs not even bound yet! It is illustrated  by reknowned artist Charles Vess of Stardust and Sandman fame. The book is due out in February 2009.

So ended an evening’s entertainment that went on for three hours! Much more than I ever expected. Neil reads the last chapter and wraps up his tour in Minneapolis, his home city tonight.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of The Graveyard Book I picked up at BEA. My review will be posted later in my reviews section of this blog.