Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Book hits bestseller lists due to blogs

Book hits bestseller lists due to blogs: "A new book has made the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Amazon.com bestseller lists without advertising, national bookstore distribution, a major publishing house, radio interviews, television interviews, or print interviews but through the power of blogs."

The Media need only two things to survive: an audience and advertising. The importance of the audience should be self-explanatory, but advertising is like a two-edged sword. Many of the problems associated with the media is their connection, even reliance upon outside businesses and corporations. Many feel this relationship is too close, sometimes blurring the lines between what's news, what's a press release, and what's a promotion. But with the success of "Call to Action: Secret Formulas to Improve Online Results" the role of traditional advertising and even the influence of media news outlets are suddenly on shaky ground.

A book makes the coveted Bestseller lists these days by who promotes them. Be it Oprah, Entertainment Weekly, or the New York Times Book Review, these media "get the word out" on new releases to inform the public. If these outlets become only secondary to blogs, then there will soon come a time when the bestseller lists might become what they were once intended: a list of the best-selling books. The lists, now, can be merely seen as strength of promotion - how much national advertising the publishing house spends on the book, the author tours, and the get-lucky appearances on NPR, the Today Show, or Oprah (rarely do these titles have the strength on their own which is why You: the Owner's Manual, recently promoted on Oprah, was sold out in almost every bookstore nationwide within hours of the show's airing; and why the publisher had to run an immediate re-print of the book because the sales exceeded all predicted expectations).

If "Call to Action" follows in the same trend, then the marketing advertiser's dream of being spotlighted on Oprah, may be seeing it's end. Blogs are here to stay, if for no other reason than regular people get to speak - type - to the entire world from the comfort of their homes or offices, a practice that was once reserved only for journalists, celebrities, and politicians. Americans - people - love the sound of their own voices even if they are scared of public speaking. It's because of this, blogs will only get more popular in the coming years. If these blogs, these communities, start to talk amongths themselves regarding good, new releases, then eventually, the bestseller lists will reflect society rather than marketing strategies.

Will they reflect/rank the "best" new releases...no. That's still completely in the hands of marketing. John Grisham will always out-sell Chuck Palahniuk and Harry Potter books will always out-sell John Grisham; it's all about audience, intended or otherwise, - the book that can attract the largest audience will sell better than a book targeted for a small, niche audience. In these times - when the media influence book consumers by spotlighting specific books toward specific audiences and where people follow these lights like deer on a dark, country highway - a bestseller list that reflects society is an admirable dream, but one that might soon come true.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Gutenberg in the 21st Century

Making Books of Blogs:

"An Israeli company plans to take the best blog postings by customers and put them between covers", says Nir Ofir, the editor.

Translating ideas. Making thoughts more than internet monologues. Blogs to be published in book format. A tale of two markets.

It's not a radical idea. Fiction writers have used blogs to write novels - readers interract with the author during the writing process and make suggestions. The author can specifically tailor a novel to attract a particular niche audience and with this pre-established audience, what publisher promotions director wouldn't drool over the idea? But what about the nonfiction? What about the millions of blogs written in diary or essay formats? Is this a new evolution of the memoir...creative nonfiction?

But even more perplexing is the question who will buy these books and from where? A tale of two markets: the computer savvy, blog-familiar, even blog-operator audience or an audience unfamiliar with the blogosphere wanting to get a traditional feel for the technology before jumping in? I guess where an individual buys such a book depends on which category that person fits into. The internet savvy individual will probably buy from Amazon, the other will probably buy it off a promotional endcap at their local Barnes & Noble. But will it really sell?

Does a non-blogging community really have a thirst for such material. Since the emergence of the blogger, questions regarding a "definition" of a journalist has been headline material among media-watchers. Thinking of collections of journalism, one could literally count mainstream, popular titles and authors on a single hand: Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe are the only that come to mind, and who really buys their nonfiction collections - media watchers. Bottom-line, a book format collection of popular blog posts is similar to reality TV - market saturation. Those interested in such collections already know how to find all these posts with relative ease on Google's homepage, why would they choose to buy them...longevity?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Salon's Spring Reading List

Here is Salon's Spring reading:

1. A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin
2. Never Let Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
3. Wasted Beauty by Eric Bogosian
4. The Coast of Akron by Adrienne Miller

I swear, when I read that article earlier this evening it had four different titles, interested in those?

1. A Changed Man by Francine Prose
2. Snobs by Julian Fellowes
3. Paradise by A.L. Kennedy
4. Under the Glacier by Halldor Laxness

What I'll be reading until Harry Potter comes out:

1. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
2. Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson
3. The Flight of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
4. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
5. Saturday by Ian McEwan

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Index of e-books

Seemingly lost amidst this vast library of computer bibles is another bible, one that you are more likely to hear whispered in your ear than reading beneath your front porch on a rainy day. Nestled between the PDF versions of Kalman Filtering and Neural Networks and The C Programming Language slumbers the Kama Sutra just waiting for a computer-savvy teenager to stumble onto this very site.

When I first started working in a bookstore environment, I was scared of it. I didn't avoid it, but I definately avoided being seen with it. I would avert my eyes away from it's glossy cover in the Sexuality/Self Help section and focus on a Chicken Soup book instead. I was still at that age when being caught with such a device of contraband would not only be embarassing, but also frightening considering, ultimately, I thought I'd have to explain to my parents why I would be caught reading something like that; it's the same reason teenagers hide their prized issue(s) of Playboy in a spot where they know parents will never look.

Almost a decade later, I'm an adult - well, at least in the sense that I can legally vote and drink - and respect the book, the lessons it taught me, and it's role in my sexual education. In school, kids learn about STDs, condoms, and the menstruation cycle, but not methods and positions. The Kama Sutra is more than just this sort of handbook, it's a sub-culture icon and "cool" parent with glossy pages between two hard covers. It's art. It's art about a fundamental, original art.

Maybe I'm cursed, but I still work at a mall-based bookstore. On Saturday nights we serve as babysitters for teenagers while their parents enjoy a quiet night in the living room or bedroom. Whatever. Inevitably, these teenagers find the Kama Sutra. They pride themselves and giggle over the covers. They feel somehow initiated into the world of adulthood by this discovery; connected with their older brothers and sisters and parents and more-experienced friends. They reminiscience about previous experiences and take mental notes in an effort to make the next time better than the last. And everytime I trouble myself with the ethical decision - do I kick them out of the section, or turn my head? I do to them what they did to me...I look directly at them and let them decide, like adults, if they are in a place where they should be.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

How to Judge a Book by its Cover

Judge A Book... by its Cover

The types of books you read are not unlike other forms of self-expression like tattoos, clothing, or music. To get what you want, you must first know what you want. Despite what your mother told you as a child, a book can be judged by its cover. I know this because I’ve been a bookseller for the two largest chain book stores in North America for more than eight of my 26 living years. The only real difference between the two giants is the style of nametag.

That being said, never ask for the book mentioned on Oprah or the Today show unless you know what the title is and who wrote it - I have an obvious bias against such bookclubs not because I disagree with their selections but, rather, because of their mass appeal and a general assumption by their viewing audiences that everyone watches these shows and should know every topic discussed during the week. Take an original role of passion when it comes to your leisure activities; if you're going to kill a lazy afternoon, a sick day, or an entire month reading a single book, shouldn't it be something you want to read?

A hardcover book jacket contains three key components: the front cover, the back cover and the inside flaps (I won't bother with the spine because so few people look at spines unless they are looking for a specific book or are already facing one of their favorite authors).

The front jacket has to appealing to you. Allow yourself to be put into a demographic and subjected to publisher marketing strategies. Book jackets are designed with their audiences in mind, I swear. If a jacket doesn't rouse some emotion, good or bad, it's not worth your time...move on.

After the front cover grabs you for whatever reason, turn the book over and read the comments on the back. Take notice of who is saying what. True, there will never be a bad review, but some opinions are worth more than others. If you're looking for something literary, reputable literary reviews, such as the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly, should be present. More important than these reviews, look for commentary by authors you've read and enjoyed. If you're looking for a good thriller/mystery wouldn't a recognized mystery writer have a more valuable opinion than People magazine?

Next, open the book and read the synopsis or blurb on the inside flaps. Also read the author bio at the back and take careful notice of appearance. If the author doesn't look like he/she could be a character in the book, stay away. John Grisham looks more like a lawyer than he does a cop or a serial killer. If you think about the most well-known writers, they look exactly as you think they should look - case-in-point, Stephen King (I love his character development and style, but if the man lived next to me, I'd probably move out of the state).

If these fail and you still don't have an armload or a child-like anticipation to get home to read, then admit you don't know what you're looking for. The bookstore is probably one of the few places in the world where it's okay to feel stupid and inadequate because it's a place designed for comfort and relaxation. If I'm looking for a new author or a new, good book, I'm probably more excited about just getting lost in a bookstore. Two hours spent looking for a good book can be just as enjoyable as two hours spent reading a book. Find a single bay and look at every spine. You don't have to pull it off the shelf, just look at the titles; if you make it to the end of the bay without thinking of a single topic (highly unlikely, it's like looking at the shelves in a CD store, one singer reminds you of a singer that you'd forgotten about), go on to the next bay or find a different section and do it again.

The best advice, don't be in a hurry. You're not going to rush through a good book. If you're like me, you want a good novel to last forever while still reading at a ferocious rate just to see what happens in the end. Allow yourself to get lost.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Problem of the Modern American Novel

Too often, people are attracted to books that have New York Times Bestseller bannered across the front cover. The banner only signifies the strength of the book's publisher and its marketing campaign. On the current list, the only book I see worthy of nation-wide respect is Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Combined with the success of his first book, Everything is Illuminated, and being one of the first novels to address/mention the 9/11 attacks, Foer's book is rich with character development and beautiful turn-quotes. With the exception of a few, Ian McEwen, Chuck Palahniuk, and Michael Chabon to name a few, modern literature finds few homes to live out its days.

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hawthorne have all been labeled classics because they represent the culture of their times. Not unlike newspaper features that focus on a single, local-feel personality to explain a national story, these authors and their contemporaries created fictional characters to represent an entire class and generation. They pulled common strengths, weaknesses, dreams and aspirations together. When these books were opened and read, the reader was not imagining a fictional character, he/she was looking into a mirror.

Every fiction novel that collects dust on the bestseller display is plot-driven. A cookie-cutter hero facing larger-than-life scenarios. Yes, the main character symbolizes the life that every American dreams to live. It's not a perfect life; the characters are often flawed to a point where the reader almost despises him/her, but readers don't care about these people; they care about what these people do. They care because it's a life so uncommon to them that it's fun to escape into.

Readers don't imagine the character page after page; the reader sees himself/herself living the life of a hero. Writers are the most at fault because they are writing for those people. They are writing for the mass audience as opposed to just a single person. The goal should not be to attract the masses, but, instead, it should be to inspire an individual.

When writers, be it the novelist or journalist, write for a mass audience they are looking to push an agenda. When they write for a single person, they are looking to inspire that one person to do great things for himself/herself and for the rest of the world. To all you writers; write for that one person that is just like you only smarter. To all you readers, find a normal character that lives an ordinary life and you will find a friend.

Searching for the Great American Novel

Article One on Books