Thursday, February 28, 2008

Online or In Print?

A writing buddy of mine has a book coming out this May and he asked me where he should send his ARCs. The first names that came to mind were prominent bloggers. Then online mystery magazines. Then librarians. I didn't think of the Washington Post, or the Chicago Tribune, or any of the other infamous print publications. Why? Besides the fact that most of them don't even have books sections anymore, print publications aren't as accessible as those published on the web and with the masses of books needing review and the decreasing space in which to publish those reviews, the likelihood of actually getting a book read and written up is minimal.

Some of the benefits of getting reviewed on the web:
  • More accessible. Anyone with a computer can find you.
  • Free, both to read and to publish.
  • Easier to network. One person reviews your book, another blogger reads the review and links to it, someone visiting the blog clicks on the link, then clicks to Amazon for more info. People are more likely to search for further information that's just a mouse-click away than if they have to boot up their computer or go to a bookstore to find out more.
  • Endless space. Unlike print publications, web zines can publish as much as they want without fear of wasting money or precious trees. That means more books getting reviewed.
  • More personal. Usually there isn't a huge corporation behind a web publication. For the most part, it's one or two people who started the website for the love of books. There are less hoops to jump through to get a book reviewed, unlike a print publication where a book passes through a few pairs of hands before reaching someone who'd actually consider reading it.

So what are the downfalls? Prestige for one. Despite our shift toward a digital society, we still deem newspaper blurbs more prestigious. Maybe it's because you know that anyone getting reviewed in a print publication had to jump through all those hoops. Maybe it's because a newspaper is tangible. Either way, a blurb from the New York Times or the Washington Post holds a lot more weight than that of a web zine.

But which sells more books? A publication that anyone can stumble across or one that you have to go out and purchase? Yes, a blurb from a newspaper would grab people's attention, but when the odds are stacked against you, isn't it better to send your ARCs to those more likely to review it? And what is more important, prestige or book sales?

Yes, I am still one of the rare few that prefers to get my fingers inky reading the book section of the Sunday paper and I hope that print publications will always have a place in our society. But with the current trends, I have to agree that digital publications are the way to go as far as getting your book reviewed and that web-based reviews sell more books than those printed in the newspaper.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Waste of Space

There isn't a day that goes by when I don't receive e-mails from MySpace, Facebook, Crimespace, or any of the other various networking tools. They tell me someone wants to be my friend, someone has sent me a message, someone has bitten me and wants me to join vampires or someone wants to meet me at the virtual bar. When the networking sites first started gaining popularity, I was only into Facebook. At the time, there was some filtration of who was allowed to sign up, not to mention it was strangely entertaining to search high school buddies and see what they were up to. But when the site went public, everything changed. Authors, bands, even corporate offices were setting up profiles as a way to network and sell their products. Except for the interface, MySpace and Facebook seem the same to me: an open forum in which to self promote and network with people.

If that wasn't enough or someone didn't like the options that were out there, Ning came along and allowed folks to create their own social network with their own specificities. Firefighters, crime writers, pagans, and Greenwood High School students finally have networks of their own. Now I was being asked to join Crimespace, GoogleBlogger, and Book Place.

The question I have is, what do these sites really do? Every author I know has a Facebook profile, MySpace page, and a Ning ID. But are these really selling books or is it just a way for authors to feel more connected?

In my experience, no one in publishing really knows what sells books. Blogs, print advertising, appearances and mailers, are just a few ideas they try out, but it's impossible to know what it takes for masses of people to run into a bookstore and buy someone's book. I don't think anyone truly believes that belonging to these social networks is going to sell books, but because everyone else is doing it, they don't want to be at a disadvantage. Couldn't hurt, right?

But I truly believe that these sights don't do anything except suck time away and maybe provide free advertising space for a book signing or author event. I've never met someone on Facebook and thought, "Wow. They have a lot of friends, most of whom are other authors. I should probably pick up their book." While I continue to have a Facebook page for the purpose of stalking old high school classmates, I'm saying no to joining anymore networks and to spending hours trolling for friends, looking at other people's pictures, or writing things on people's walls. And though I may be at a disadvantage since everyone else is doing it, I'm going to spend those free hours writing, reading, and maybe even leaving the house and meeting a real life friend.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Reading

While I was never big on romance novels or a sucker for love scenes, in honor of Valentine's Day I thought I'd throw out the few love stories that warmed my heart and the characters that I find most memorable:

Gone With The Wind is the classic romance novel and the second bestselling book of all time (the first being the bible). Scarlett and Rhett's love and passion make this a must read on the most romantic day of the year. And let's face it, the fact that there's a war going on and they could be killed at any moment, gives the romance a dash of suspense that make crime readers like me unable to look away.

Lolita may not be the classic, or even mainstream love story but you cannot help but be entranced by Humpert's undying affection for Lolita, no matter how sick and twisted. Looking at the facts of the story, yes, he is a child molester who, in the real world, would serve time in prison combined with counseling sessions and shots of Depo Provera, but by simply listening to the story, hearing the way Humpert sees and speaks of Lolita, it's impossible not to feel sympathetic.
Welcome To Temptation is not your typical romance either, depsite the pink cover. Crusie's humerous writing style, combined with a hint of darkness and gore made me literally laugh out loud. Sophie and Amy come from a family of con artists and when they roll into town attempting to shoot an art film (code name for porn) they cause the small town of Temptation, Ohio to launch an uproar. But they know how to get their way with people, especially when the town Mayor is cute and has a thing for Sophie. Again, not something I'd normally read but I can still recite scenes from this book even though I read it almost five years ago.

Possible Side Effects is more of a comedy than a romance but I think of all the significant others in the literary world, I like Dennis the best. Augusten is a neurotic, recovering alcoholic, germophob writer and somehow, he managed to get a great guy like Dennis to put up with him. Reading about their relationship always makes me smile, especially in scenes where their sleeping with their large dog in between them, or eating a dish called the "lesbian expansion" that sits like rocks in their stomachs and they spend their evening rubbing each other's belly's. If you hate the sappy, birds-chirping-music-playing-in-the-background type love stories, this is the right Valentine's book for you.

Unbearable Lightness of Being was one of the first books I read that truly blew me away. It was the first book I read that was t0ld in that "block" structure. It was the first book I read that had characters I fell in love with, a romance I cared about, philosophy that I didn't grow bored of and character studies that I didn't deam unnecessary. It was an unexpected favorite and one that I have reread numerous times, each time, growing more and more fond of it.

It seems like I have a strange grouping of books that I deam as romantic, but like I said, I'm not one for the sappy stuff. Feel free to leave your own Valentine's Day inspired reading list, no matter how standard or out there you think it may be.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Time Out Article

If you're in the Chicago area, pick up this week's Time Out Chicago and check out my article in the Kids section about the LA Rockibilly band that is bringing new meaning to the All Ages Show. Or I guess you can read it here...

Pretty Lucky

Last night I watched Sicko by Michael Moore. I'm usually first in line for these types of movies but with my hectic schedule it was overlooked until now. While it raised a lot of questions and prompted me to do further research on the subject, the one thing that I couldn't get out of my mind, long after the final credits had rolled was, "Who are these people and how can they live with themselves?" I listened to the testimony of the medical directors, saying the more claims they denied the higher their bonuses were. Although they knew full well that their clients would die without proper care, they still sent in the denial letter. I don't think I could look myself in the mirror.

This led me to what Lee Child said this weekend at Love is Murder. He was talking about how lucky we are to be working in this industry. We don't hurt anyone. We're not like a drug company; no one is buying our product because they have to. We're not like a football team where if one person gets on the team that means one person is out. There's enough room for all of us. Of course there's the validation of seeing your work in print, the possibility of hitting bestseller lists or that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon will like your book so much that they'll want to make it into a movie, etc.

But overall, I believe he is right. Yes, beginning writers struggle and it's a tough industry to crack, but really, we're pretty well off. I've never lost sleep at night over what I do for a living. I don't have ulcers because my work is destroying the lives of others. I can look myself in the mirror. And although there are already tons of very talented writers, there is plenty of room for more.