Thursday, March 31, 2011

Publish & Prosper: Blogging for Business by DL Byron and Steve Broback

This is a slightly older book, so I can't find a listing for the paperback new from B&N.  The link below, therefore, goes to the ebook edition.  I originally blogged about this book in June of 2007 on my old writing-book review blog.  It was such a great resource for bloggers that I wanted to post the review here, even though I can't find a listing on BN.com.  Hopefully any bloggers who are interested in reading it can find a used copy elsewhere!

iconiconI spotted Publish & Prosper: Blogging for Business at the Apple store. Although I am a writer first and a blogger second, I was immediately interested; after all, blogging does involve writing, and does help my writing business.

I was amazed by how helpful this book really is. It's written for any level of blogger, whether you haven't even begun yet or you've been in the blogosphere for years. I've been blogging for about a year and a half now, but there are still things I learned from Byron and Broback's book.

Publish & Prosper starts with a pretty basic explanation of blogs: the short version of how they evolved, how they work, etc. The book also goes into more detail on various feature you can utilize, how to make your blog work for your business, etc. Some of this stuff I already knew, other things I did without understanding why it seemed to work so well, and still other things I didn't know at all (but plan to try out on my own blogs).

Whether or not you are a writer, if you have a business to promote online Publish & Prosper is the perfect resource on blogging!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nook vs. Kindle

I thought this was an interesting comparison between the Nook and the Kindle.  The one thing the video didn't address, and the deciding factor for me, is that the Nook offers much more format flexibility.  Owning a Kindle makes it nearly impossible to switch to another ebook reader, because the format is only readable on their own device (or on computer and iPhone apps, but Apple may eliminate those from the app store, and who wants to read on the computer?).  Plus, the Kindle doesn't allow you to purchase ebooks from other sellers and sideload them onto the device — which eliminates library ebooks as an option.  Since my library has a great selection, and I get a ton of free ebooks from Barnes & Noble and other sources, the Nook was the obvious choice.



For a more detailed analysis of the Nook's benefits and flaws, check out this review of the Nook.

Who do I need to piss off to get some readers?

The case of Big Al's Books and Pals versus Jacquiline Howett has been making the rounds on the Internet lately.  If you haven't heard about it, basically a book review blogger gave a self-published book a bad review because of the many errors, and the author threw a public tantrum in the comments.  She started out insisting that he read the wrong copy (why would an author even publish an unedited or unformatted copy?) and demanding that he take down the review, and ended by telling commenters she didn't like to "F--- off."

It doesn't seem to have hurt the blogger at all, though.  He, of course, did not take down the review, and has more than 700 followers.  Last night, when I first visited the blog, he had a mere 500, so I'm fairly certain that the vast majority are a result of this drama.

Damn...  Who do I need to piss off to get that kind of readership?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

iconiconI'm about to read Frankenstein's Monster, so I decided that before I did so, I should refresh my memory and reread Frankenstein. I read it at least once in college (maybe more, I can't remember), and I believe once since, so I've read it a couple of times before.  I read so much, though, that I don't recall many details of a book once some time has passed, so I wanted to make sure it was fresh in my mind before reading the modern sequel to Mary Shelley's classic.

Despite the fact that I've read the book a couple of times before, though — or maybe because of it — I had a hard time focusing.  I found I remembered more details as I went along than I thought I would.  Frankenstein is fairly short, but it still took me an agonizing 4 days or so to finish it — and that was with a lot of skimming.  (Part of it may have been that I was distracted with anticipation of getting my Nook, but I'm not having the same problems focusing on The Girl Who Played with Fire, so I don't think that was the problem.)

I think it's especially interesting that I wasn't in the mood for Frankenstein this time around, because in college it was one of my favorites.  Not as much as, say, the Brontë sisters, but a great deal more than most of what I read as part of my English degree.  I was always fascinated with the fact that a young woman (quite young, actually) in the early 19th century would sit down and write a science fiction horror novel, when most women writers at the time were writing romances and cautionary tales.  It's pretty impressive, when you think of it like that.

The link above is to the Barnes & Noble ebook with the nice critical commentary and footnotes, which costs $3.99.  There are other editions on the website, notably many PubIt versions of the ebook that cost as low as 99 cents, but they typically don't have an introduction or footnotes.  If you don't care about that stuff and you want an ebook, you can get a free download of Frankenstein from Project Gutenberg.  I use that site to get most of my classics, and highly recommend it!

Note: Frankenstein is also available as a free ebook on Girlebooks.com, another of my favorite sites for free classics!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another source for free classic ebooks

I made a discovery the other day, as I was downloading free classics to sideload on my Nook when I get it.  Although Project Gutenberg is still the best source for free classic ebooks, Girlebooks has a nice selection of free classics written by women.  The advantage to these over the Gutenberg ebooks is that they have been given covers, so if you sideload them onto an ereader or into an ebook reader app, they'll look nicer in your library (which usually shows thumbnails of your covers).

I downloaded quite a few Girlebooks classics, including 7 of the "Anne of Green Gables" books by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Nook anticipation

My Nook has been ordered and will be here in the next couple of days — it ships today.  In the meantime, here is a review of the Nook on cnet.

I'm very excited and already planning out how I'm going to organize my ebooks into "shelves" and that sort of thing.  There are a number of how-to support videos for the Nook on Barnes & Noble's website, so I've been going through those to learn everything I can about my new Nook.  By the time it arrives, I'll be ready to go!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My very own Nook!

iconiconBig news! I've decided that as much as I like the ebook experience, it's time to upgrade to the real deal: an ebook reader.  My iPhone works well, but with all of Apple's threats and the limited battery life that I get reading on my phone, I've decided that having a dedicated reader is my goal.

And of course I chose the Nook!  Among the things I like about it is the fact that it allows for much more flexibility with format, so that I can sideload Adobe Digital Editions DRM books such as library ebooks.

Barnes & Noble sells refurbished Nooks for a reduced price — click on the image for more information.  I'll probably be getting the basic model, because it's supposedly a little lighter and because I don't anticipate needing to download books when I don't have a wifi connection.  All I have to do is find a Starbucks, anyways, right?

I should be getting my Nook next month for my birthday.  I'm so excited!

Amanda Hocking goes traditional!

I've mentioned Amanda Hocking before as a successful self-published author, who has used the electronic publishing programs from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Smashwords to her advantage.  She has sold a lot of books this way, and less than two months ago was quoted as saying,"This is working really well as me."

Working or not, it seems she has decided to try things out with a traditional publisher:

A Successful Self-Publishing Author Decides to Try the Traditional Route

On her blog, she vaguely discusses her decision:

What I Can Say Right Now

In her post, she talks about how she wants more time to write, instead of marketing her books.  Well, as gets pointed out on this thread, lots of traditional authors have to spend a lot of time marketing, too.  She also quotes another author and blogger who pointed out traditional authors who are making so much more than self-published ones.  Sure, but would Amanda Hocking have gotten picked up by a publisher if she'd taken the traditional route?  Or would she be still be sitting in the slush pile, rather than having sold millions of copies of her books?

I think it's still an awesome success story, but I also think it's interesting that she is continuing to self-publish.  The books she has already published will remain self-published, and her next book will follow suit.  The rights she sold to St. Martin's were to a new 4-book YA series.  If she likes traditional publishing, she may bring over her other books, but for now it seems she is using her self-publishing success as leverage to allow her to straddle the fence and check out the scenery on both sides.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

iconiconYou may remember that about a month ago, I read two books by Sara Gruen, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes.  I loved both books, and tore through each one in about a day.

I finally got the ebook of Water for Elephants from my library — there was a waiting list that has since gotten even longer, because of the movie that's coming out.  And I have to say, this book was nothing short of amazing.  I loved Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, of course, but I think I liked this one even better.  You just feel during the entire book the the story is building toward something significant.  I could hardly put it down!

The main character and narrator is Jacob, a student in veterinary school during the Great Depression.  When tragedy strikes his family, he leaves school and literally runs away with the circus, though not on purpose — he hops a train and that's where he finds himself.  Pretty soon he is sucked into the behind-the-scenes world of the circus, which is (as it turns out) full of corruption.  Both Jacob's boss and the general manager of the circus are evil men, but there are a few bright spots.  Jacob makes some loyal friends among the performers and crew, including Rosie, the elephant they acquire when another circus goes under.

I had a hard time deciding what category to put this book in, but ultimately I decided on historical fiction, because of the Great Depression time period and all the research that obviously went into getting the circus setting just right.  I highly recommend it — you'll especially love the unexpected ending!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Google book settlement: REJECTED!

Yesterday I saw this article on NPR:

Judge Rejects Book-Scanning Deal Between Google and Publishers, Authors

I hate the title of the article, the fact that the case is called a "book settlement," and everything else about how this case is described, because it is misleading.  It makes you think the judge was doing the wrong thing by rejecting the settlement, when actually he was protecting the copyrights of gazillions of authors and their publishers.

Do you remember a few years ago when suddenly you could find complete books online for free via Google Books?  I remember finding popular books like Wicked and being excited, because I could read the book for free online.  Seems like a good idea, right?

Wrong...  It was done without the approval of the copyright holders.  Google just decided one day that copyright law didn't apply to them, I suppose.

A lawsuit was brought against them for it in 2005.  This so-called "settlement" gave individual authors a piddly amount in order to allow Google to continue doing what they were doing.  Yay for Judge Chin for recognizing that it wasn't "fair or adequate."

As much as I love free ebooks, I don't believe in screwing authors in order to get them!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

iconiconAfter enjoying Rampant, the first book in Diana Peterfreund's Killer Unicorns series, I was particularly excited about Ascendant.  There are lots of dark fantasy YA books out there right now, but this strikes me as one of the most unique.

Rampant focused a lot on Astrid and her sisters-in-arms learning how to fight and kill unicorns, an art form that hasn't been taught for well over a century, so there is no one left alive who knows how.  The result is that the girls have to figure it out themselves by trial and error.

Ascendant takes a slightly different approach.  In the second book, Astrid starts learning other things about the lost unicorn hunter culture — things that teach her to appreciate the creatures, and may even help her save them in the end.

I wonder if there will be a third book?  I hope so!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell

I reviewed this book on Reading 4 Writers in June of 2007.  It's a great book for writers!

iconiconDespite what a quick and enjoyable read The Renegade Writer is, the meat of the book is quite substantial. Basically, it presents a list of rules about freelancing that are not as hard and fast as you might think -- and that, actually, would hold you back if you followed them. Some of these rules I've learned to break on my own (or never learned that they were rules in the first place), and others I've been following. Still others are news to me -- such as the idea that you can't break into features for magazines if you start out writing shorts. (The authors debunk this myth, which I never even knew existed.)

My favorite rules to break:

* "Start at the bottom."
* "Be familiar with the magazine before querying it."
* "Don't quit your day job."

I completely agree with Formichelli and Burrell on all of these. There's nothing that says you have to start at the bottom or epitomize the starving artist in order to prove your passion and dedication. And, while researching a publication before querying it is handy and even necessary, I think many writers over-research to put off the actual querying part. (Afraid of rejection, I guess?) As for quitting your day job -- well, I did it! You definitely need savings or a sympathetic significant other to cushion you for the first few months, but if you dedicate your time to honestly looking for freelance work, it shouldn't take long to start generating income.

The Renegade Writer covers pretty much the whole realm of freelancing -- everything from breaking in and querying to rights and contracts. This would be a great book to have on your shelf, whether you are a newbie or old hat!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer

Here is another review that was originally posted on Reading 4 Writers, my now-defunct blog for reviewing writing-related book. I also blogged about it here, but this review was a little more detailed.
iconiconI picked up this book, Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer, and started reading before I knew who Jenna Glatzer was. Partway through the book, I realized that I knew of her site - I haven't spent much time on it myself, but I've heard about it from other freelancers. Frankly, it's not all good. As a result, this review will be divided into two parts: what I think of the actual book, and my reflections on it after the fact (knowing what I know about AbsoluteWrite.com).

The book itself:

Quite honestly, I have read few books that I think are as helpful to beginning freelancers as Glatzer's book. What sets this one apart is the "insider's secrets" - she tells you things that you would only otherwise learn by freelancing for the top magazines for years and years: tips such as that writer's guidelines are always negotiable once you have already written for the publication, "no email queries" doesn't always mean that, and the sections of a magazine that beginning writers will have the easiest time breaking into.

Of course, the book also covers all of the usuals, such as how to write a killer query and how to conduct an interview. However, I think Glatzer addresses even these oft-covered topics with more detail than they are usually given - and better advice.

Finally, what I like best about Glatzer's book is the conversational style. It's easy to read and understand - no snoring sections or paragraphs that make you say "What...???"

Putting it all into perspective:

And now for the big picture. While I was reading this book, I was trying desperately what I had heard about Glatzer's site. I kept thinking it was something about the hypocrisy of it all - that Glatzer and her site's members all bitch about low paying gig, while AbsoluteWrite.com is, itself, a low-paying market.

I checked this morning, and sure enough - AbsoluteWrite.com only pays $5 per article from experienced writers. After reading an entire book where she talked about jobs that pay several thousand for an article, it's insulting. One of her site's competitors, Writers Weekly, offers $50!

The moral of the story:

It's amazing what people will say when they have a book deal. A book about how to land top-paying gigs will sell better than a book about how to land average-paying gigs, yet the writer of this wonderful book pays her writers worse than low.

I think that Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer contains a lot of excellent advice for writers at any stage of their career. However, considering who the writer is, I would take it with a grain of salt - especially the part where she repeatedly says that a beginning writer may have to write for free in order to get started. I have never found that to be the case.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner

Originally posted in February of 2007, this quick little review is another from Reading 4 Writers, my old blog for reviewing writing-related books.

iconiconOne could argue whether Richard A. Posner wrote The Little Book of Plagiarism for writers, but the book definitely is of interest to writers. This brief (109 pages) read is nevertheless packed with information.

Starting with the controversial story of Kaavya Viswanathan, Posner leads his readers through a very organized tour: first discussing high-profile plagiarism cases, then discussing the broader definitions of plagiarism and copyright infringement, and finally narrowing the definitions down in order to try to determine exactly what it is about plagiarism that gets everyone so upset. The underlying theme here is that true plagiarism attempts to pass itself off as originality, when in fact it's anything but.

This book may not tell you how to write, or why you should write, but it definitely shows you what you shouldn't do: copy someone else's work.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

iconiconI finished Halo last night, about about 3 days of struggling through it.  It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as compelling to me as YA dark fantasy romances usually are — I usually whiz through them in a day or two.

A couple interesting things about the book.  One, the author is just 18, and Australian.  This isn't her first book, either — she wrote her first one when she was 14, but it was only published in Australia.  For the most part, there wasn't anything about the book that would tip you off about her age — I was a third of the way through before I read the back flap, and was totally surprised by the discovery — but she has an extremely annoying (to me) habit of leaving out commas.  Maybe it's an Australian thing, but no matter what it is, it drove me crazy — and she did it all through the book.

Although the story was well-thought out and (with the exception of the annoying lack of commas) well-written, however, I had a hard time getting into it.  The first half of the book was almost entirely about their relationship, and could have been written almost entirely the same without her being an angel.  It wasn't until a little over halfway through that the "dark forces" at work in the town actually became a conflict.

If you are interested in YA angel romances, I think Hush, Hush and Crescendo, and Fallen and Torment, were way better and more interesting books.  Not that this is a bad book, I just thought it wasn't as compelling as some of the others out there.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Warrior's Woman by Johanna Lindsey

iconiconEdit: I did eventually read this one, and ended up liking it after all.  You can read that review here.

 I tried to read this one. I really did. But I just couldn't get into it — it was too far-fetched for me.

I checked it out from the library because I used to be a big Johanna Lindsey fan.  I loved her historical romances back when I was in high school — one of my favorites ever was Angel.

Unfortunately, this one wasn't historical, but futuristic.  Maybe I couldn't get into it because it's not my thing, but since I do read some fantasy and sci-fi, I'm not sure that's the case.  I felt like I was getting blasted with tons of unfamiliar names and terms during the 20 or so pages I read, without much explanation (or much of anything interesting happening, to lure me into reading more until it starts to make sense).  In my opinion, good futuristic fiction has to draw a parallel right away — something in the story that you recognize from your own time — otherwise it's too dissimilar to interest the reader.  The same goes for all sci-fi and fantasy, actually.  You can't make it so different from our own world that you confuse your readers.

So, obviously, I didn't finish this book — not even close.  I've tried several times to pick it back up, but the deluge of unfamiliar names dissuades me every time.  And it just kills me, because I really did love her historical romances when I was younger.  Maybe I should read another of those (or reread one of my favorites) just to make sure it's not my taste in authors that has changed, but I don't think that's the case.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sweet Savage Charity by Margaret Lake

Sweet Savage Charity is one of the only shorts that I downloaded during Read an eBook Week.  At 99 cents normally, though, it's still a pretty good price.  The page numbering isn't quite accurate epubs yet, but Bluefire said it was 28 pages long.  It might be a little more than that (usually the page numbering falls short of what it actually is).

The story takes place in Plymouth Colony in 1621.  Charity is widowed shortly after the colony is founded.  She had converted to Puritanism and come to the New World for her husband's sake, but now he's gone and the council is ordering her to remarry a man of their choice — a man she despises.

The council gives her a few days' reprieve before she has to remarry, though, and in the meantime she meets a native in the woods.  Meeting him changes her life, and helps her find the courage to stand up for what she really wants.

I wish the story would have been longer, because I would have liked to get to know the characters better, and to find out what happens to Charity later on.  But the story is well-written, with just the right amount of backstory, leaked at just the right times.  Definitely worth a dollar if you are looking for something to occupy you for an hour or so.

An article on the Harper Collins library ebooks issue

This article ran yesterday in the New York Times:

Publisher Limits Shelf Life for Library E-Books

(There's that stupid hyphenation of ebook again.  Arrghhhh.)

So the struggle between Overdrive, public libraries, and Harper Collins has now made the big news.  In case you haven't heard, Harper Collins has decided to enforce a checkout limit of 26 patrons on its library ebooks, because they claim that this makes ebooks behave more like physical books, which eventually wear out.  (According to librarians, this checkout limit is entirely unrealistic.)

The New York Times article makes a good point near the end: There are downsides to ebooks, too.  Print books can be sold in used book sales as interest in a book wanes or if it becomes obvious that the library has too many copies.  Reselling used books is a good source of revenue for the library.

Maybe if Harper Collins is so big on making ebooks behave more like print books, they can start allowing libraries to resell unread copies.  Fair is fair.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Read an eBook Week aftermath

The last day of Read an eBook Week was the 12th, so Saturday afternoon I spent some time browsing through Smashwords for free ebooks.  I got about 45 pages through the list (there were a LOT of free ebooks!) and downloaded about 30.  I can't even imagine how many I might have downloaded if I'd had the time to keep searching.

All in all, I think I got about 60 free ebooks for Read an eBook Week.  The vast majority are full-length novels, too — I think I only downloaded a couple that were shorts.  Of course when I'll have time to get to them all is another matter, but almost all of them were only free for the week, so better to download them now and figure out when I'll get to them later!

Did you download any ebooks for Read an eBook Week?  If so, how did you make out?

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

iconiconWhen I read Kiss Me Deadly last month, there was a story in it about a unicorn hunter.  I had seen Diana Peterfreund's Killer Unicorns books before, but it was the short story that caught my interest and made me decide to read the series.

I've really been enjoying the YA dark fantasy books that have been so popular lately, and I'm always excited when I find something that's a little different than the rest.  Rampant definitely is different, since I haven't seen anything else about killer unicorns!  In the story, Astrid finds out that what her mom has been telling her all her life — that she is descended from a noble family of unicorn hunters — is actually not crazy after all, but real.

So Astrid goes to Rome to learn how to hunt unicorns.  Unfortunately they haven't been seen since the 19th century, and everyone thought they were extinct.  (Well, everyone who believes the old stories.)  The result is that there is no one alive who remembers how to hunt unicorns, so Astrid and half a dozen other girls basically have to figure it all out on their own.  Meanwhile, there's been a reemergence of unicorns, and things are getting pretty dangerous for Astrid and her fellow hunters!

I wasn't sure about this book at first, but it picked up quickly, and before long I was really hooked.  I'm looking forward to reading the second book, Ascendant, because there seem to be a couple of loose ends to tie up still!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis

This book was one of the most interesting and useful books I ever reviewed on Reading 4 Writers, my old writing-book review blog. Packed with information, this is one book I think every writer should have in their personal library. I am thrilled to see that the book is now available in ebook format! Perfect for writers who need information right away.

iconiconI found it: the book that gets the prize "Most Useful for Freelance Writers." And it's not a book that tells you how to write - it's a book that tells you how not to get screwed when you publish what you've written.

Although Richard Curtis wrote How to Be Your Own Literary Agent for book authors, I think it helps regular freelancers just as much. If you have to negotiate a book deal, read a contract, or even sign a contract, you ought to read this book first.

How to Be Your Own Literary Agent basically translates the contracts between writers and publishers into language that you can understand. It breaks down every step of the book deal, explaining how the wordy "legalese" in your contract can result in significant gains - or losses - in your career.

As a freelance writer who deals with contracts regularly, I thought I knew a lot about them. I quickly found that I don't know as much as I will need to when I get to the point in my career where I'm publishing books. The basic point is that publishers area always out to take advantage of writers so that they can maximize their profits, and unless a writer knows better (or has an agent who knows better), he or she could get screwed out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Although Curtis's book was written primarily for writers who want to sell their book without the help of an agent (i.e. do-it-yourselfers like Yours Truly), I think it's also a must-read even for writers who plan to use (or already use) an agent. What Curtis says is true: there are absolutely no standards in place for those who wish to call themselves agents. In other words, no matter how careful you are, your agent may simply not have the knowledge or ambition to protect your best interests. Knowing your own way around a contract will protect you from getting screwed by your agent and the publisher.

Here's a sampling of the subjects that How to Be Your Own Literary Agent covers:

* How to get your submission noticed by the editor even if you don't have an agent
* Fair royalty rates and how to avoid common pitfalls that cost you some of your rightful income
* Reserving rights for yourself such as electronic (ebook) rights, movie and TV rights, etc.
* Ensuring that your publisher sends detailed, accurate royalty statements
* Protecting yourself from getting stuck with a crappy publisher
* Making sure the rights to the book revert back to you in a timely manner after the book goes out of print (or doesn't get published during a reasonable amount of time)
* How long the publication process takes and what to expect
* Ways to promote your own book (and why in most cases you can't let the publisher handle it)
* The ups and downs of collaborations
* All about book packagers (you know, those companies who give an author an outline of a book and a flat fee to write it)
* Handling an auction for the right to publish a book (and why you're better off letting an agent handle this)
* Taxes
* The influence of book superstores (i.e. Barnes & Noble, Borders)
* Writing titles (and dealing with it when your publisher rewrites them)
* Advice on nontraditional publishing methods such as small publishing houses, self publishing, ebooks, etc.

As you can see, this book offers advice on more than simply how to negotiate a contract with your publisher - it tells you how the world of publishing works, so that you won't be taken advantage of for not knowing. Regardless of what kind of writing you do or whether you plan to have an agent, this book is a staple to have on your shelf!

An Education by Lynn Barber

iconiconSeveral months ago, we watched the movie An Educationicon on Netflix.  I happened to see that it was based on a memoir, and decided to check out the book.

The movie is based on just one chapter, also called "An Education."  In about 1960, when the author was 16, she started dating an older man, only to find out after a couple of years that he had been lying to her about some pretty major stuff.  Her parents had been pushing the importance of education until he proposed, and then suddenly started pushing for her to get married instead.  When she said, "What about Oxford?" they told her she didn't need to go to Oxford if she got married.  Of course, shortly afterward the secret came out, and she ended up going to Oxford anyway.

I'm not sure what exactly she learned — she says in various places that she learned to lie while she was with Simon, and she apparently also learned not to take her real education seriously, since she essentially studied men at Oxford instead of schoolwork.

The rest of the book goes on to detail her time at Oxford, her relationship with her husband, her career as a journalist, and her husband's death.  It's a fairly fast read — only about 175 pages — and parts are compelling and quite funny, as she has a pretty ironic sense of humor.  There were other parts, though, that I skimmed because I didn't find them as compelling.

Overall, it's a good book, and appeals to me as a writer because of the stories of her career.  It's also a good read if you liked the movie, and are interested in the real story!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Advantages and disadvantages of ebooks

First, can I just say that I abhor some people's refusal to let go of the hyphenation in the word ebook?  Just like we now write email, and not E-mail as it used to be, it's ebook.  Hyphenation always goes away after a little while, once a new word has become commonplace (think to-morrow versus tomorrow) and I think it's past time that we stopped hyphenating words that start with the electronic e.

Anyway, that rant aside, I'd like to direct your attention to a lovely little article on the Read an eBook Week website: Advantages of eBooks.  Sara Rosso hits on many of the points I've made on this blog: convenience, space-saving, no driving or shipping required, etc.

On the other side, however, is this little rant about the evils of ebooks.  This guy doesn't like that the Kindle shares popular highlighted passages with other readers, but as some of the comments point out, he also neglects to mention that he could have opted out of that particular feature.  Besides, some people really like "social" reading like that, which explains why certain sites such as BookGlutton are so popular.  All I can say is, if you can turn that feature off, I don't see what the problem is.

What about you?  What do you think are the advantages and the disadvantages of ebooks?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Librarians boycott Harper Collins

One of the biggest stories in ebook news right now is Harper Collins's 26-patron checkout limit on their ebooks.  Apparently the new policy just went into effect on Monday.  Of course, the idea that limiting ebooks to 26 checkouts makes them more like physical books is ludicrous, as these librarians proved.

Now there's new information.  Apparently some libraries are banding together and declaring a boycott on Harper Collins books.  Some libraries are only boycotting their ebooks, which makes sense anyway, because they simply can't afford to replace them year after year (26 checkouts means only about a year in the catalog if the checkout limits are only 2 weeks).  Other libraries are actually going so far as to boycott the publisher's physical books as well, although they have said that they will get Harper Collins titles for their patrons via interlibrary loan if requested.

Now, this boycott is only going to do any good if individuals join forces with the libraries.  Otherwise, people will just go out and buy the books, which is what Harper Collins wants anyway.  For days now I've been disregarding any Harper Collins titles, instead of putting them on my wish list or requesting them at my library as I usually would.  If it's something I absolutely have to read, and my library already has it, I might get the physical copy through them, but I'm hesitant to check out the ebook and prevent another patron from getting their turn.  Heaven knows, I have enough ebooks right now to provide a couple of years' worth of reading material, thanks largely to free ebooks on Barnes & Noble and Project Gutenberg, not to mention the many wonderful titles available through my library.

In other words, I won't miss any Harper Collins titles if I officially join this boycott (which I unofficially already have).  What about you?  Will you help out, and do a little voting with your wallet?

Purple and Black by K.J. Parker

iconiconThere weren't any new copies of K.J. Parker's Purple and Black available from Barnes & Noble, only used copies.  If you click on the book cover, it will take you to a search of Barnes & Noble's site for "purple and black" — maybe they'll get more listings for it later on.

Anyway, this is the second book by K.J. Parker that I've read, though this one is really only a novella.  I read The Company a little while back, and was really impressed with it.  My husband really likes this author's books, and has read several of them, including The Folding Knife and, more recently, The Hammer.

Purple and Black is short, only about 100 pages, and written in epistolary form — a series of letters back and forth.  You gather from the letters that the emperor of some unknown fantasy kingdom has come to the throne quite unexpectedly — he was a ways down on the list, but the rest of his family all killed one another, so it fell to him.  He's sent his old college buddy out to one of the border territories to deal with an insurgency, even though his buddy is more of a scholar and has absolutely no military experience.

One of the things I really like about K.J. Parker's books is the wry, slightly understated sense of humor.  There's a lot of that in this one, especially in the emperor's friend's letters.  The end is surprising, though — I didn't see it coming, and I usually have a pretty good sixth sense for unexpected twists in a novel's plot.

I hope this book will be available in ebook eventually, because the hardback is a little difficult to get your hands on.  It was only available as a limited edition, so now you can only find it from third-party sellers.  However, if your library has a copy or you can find a reasonably priced used one, it's definitely worth reading!

Oh, the free ebooks!

I'm having a wonderful time downloading ebooks in honor of Read an eBook Week.  Of course not all of them may be worth reading, but better to download them now, while they're available, than to miss them altogether!  If you want to cash in on all the ebook specials going on this week, check Books on the Knob for daily updates on the free ebooks and other deals to be had!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Librarians debunk Harper Collin's 26 ebook checkout limit

You may remember my post last week about Harper Collins's decision to only license their ebooks for 26 checkouts in the libraries.  Their argument is that this will make ebooks more like a physical copy, which has to be replaced eventually because of wear and tear.  Twenty-six checkouts works out to roughly a year with 2-week checkout periods (ebooks cannot be renewed).

Unfortunately, their math is bad.  I've checked books out from the library that were obviously several decades old, sometimes older, and I'm sure everyone else here who frequents libraries has had the same experience.

Well, a couple of librarians from the Pioneer Library System disagreed with Harper Collins's numbers, only they had the proof to back it up.  This video shows how many checkouts books can get and still be in good, readable condition.  Also, don't forget that libraries routinely repair physical copies in order to make them last longer — the copy with the spine separation could be easily fixed and sent out to be enjoyed by another 120 patrons.



What I find most fascinating is the paperback that has been checked out 25 times, yet is still in really good condition.  So now paperbacks will outlast ebooks?  Harper Collins's claim that 26 checkouts are a fair limit to place on ebooks is obviously groundless.

The video encourages viewers to write to Harper Collins about this.  Remember to be calm and professional about it — you can say that you disagree and why, but please, no name-calling, threats, or raging lunacy.  We want them to take our concerns seriously!

Click on this link to email Harper Collins.

Men in Kilts by Katie MacAlister

iconiconI'm not sure how to best classify Men in Kilts, but my library seems to think it's romance (chick lit would be my other guess), so that's what I'll go with.  It's not like any romance novel I've ever read, though — it's told in first person, for one thing, and the couple gets together in the first 30 pages, for another.

I read this on my horseback riding instructor's recommendation.  She said it was hilarious, and — well, hilarious might actually be an understatement.  It's narrated by the main female character, Kathie, who is a mystery author.  She goes to England for a conference, and meets a (as she puts it) "dishy Scotsman" while she's there.  Three nights later, they're in bed together; and by the time the conference ends, they've made plans for her to stay with him in Scotland on his sheep farm.

I think if you took away all Kathie's commentary as the narrator, and all the hilarious predicaments she manages to get herself into, the story would only be ho-hum, but her voice really makes it stand out.  Let's see, there's the time she goes shopping for pants, which in British English means men's underwear, and of course a sheltered American author adapting to life on a sheep farm in the Highlands is filled with lots of humorous moments.  And then you have the "hen party" (bachelorette party), and the fact that every time one of her American relatives meets him, they always ask, "Where's his kilt?"  And... Well, you get the point.

Trust me on this — it's beyond amusing.  It's laugh-out-loud kind of stuff.  If you want to read something fun that makes you laugh, this is your book!

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

This was one of my favorite books that I reviewed on Reading 4 Writers, my old writing-book review blog. The review was originally posted in January of 2007.

iconiconI have a confession to make: I have only ever read one Stephen King novel, and I hated every minute of it, even though I forced myself to finish. However, I've heard that he writes very well about writing, so I decided to read his book On Writing.

I loved the book, but it also demonstrated to me why I don't like his novels. I'll start with the reasons why I loved it.

The first part of the book is extremely engaging. He describes his memories, from the earliest to as recent as when he published Carrie - but in a choppy style, as that's how he said he remembers his life. The memories are delightful - he has a wonderful wry sense of humor. It is also fascinating to see how his memories dance around, and finally converge on, his destiny as a writer.

King's sections about writing are also very well written. He has a gift for organization, that much is certain - each discussion is separate, yet flows easily into the next. He doesn't bore the reader with unnecessary how-to advice or proselytizing, but gets his point across succinctly and easily.

However, there were a few things I don't agree with. He talks about how writing for a paper was such a revelation for him, and how he learned to leave out unnecessary words. I think that is a valuable skill, but I also think that a lot fewer words in fiction are unnecessary than in newspaper writing or copywriting. Fiction requires more words to create vivid description. I also don't think that adverbs (you know, the -lys) should be banned quite as religiously (ha! see?) as he recommends.

As I was discussing my disagreements with my fiance, I realized what it is about Stephen King's (fiction) writing style that rankles me so: it's his lack of description, his inability to make me feel a part of the story. It's the cold nakedness of his prose. My favorite writers are ones like Anne Rice, whose description could be aptly called "lush" or "heady." That's what I'm looking for in a novel, and I'm afraid Mr. King just doesn't quite deliver.

When writing about writing, though, he does beautifully. Ironically, he talks about how difficult writing the book was for him, how painful he found it to write nonfiction. 'Tis a pity, because I think he did a beautiful job of it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Read an eBook Week

Read an eBook Week


Apparently March 6 through March 12 is Read an eBook Week. Click on the banner to go to the website to enter a couple of giveaways for ebook readers — one Nook and a couple of Kobo ebook readers are being given away at the end of the week.

A bunch of sites are also giving away free ebooks throughout the week.  Smashwords, an ebook publishing site for independent authors and publishers, is offering tons of free and discounted ebooks.  I spent about an hour going through the list, and downloaded a dozen or so free ebooks before I tired of it.  You can also go to Books on the Knob to find other sites giving away free ebooks.

I have to confess, I think I've only read a couple of physical books in the last few months.  When I first started reading ebooks over the summer, I thought I would only read them occasionally.  Instead, it's turned into virtually all I read.  Not only can I download several free ebooks every week, thanks to promotions such as Barnes & Noble's Free Friday selections and publisher promotions used to generate reviews and get readers hooked on series, but it also has virtually eliminated my weekly (at least) trip to the library.  I'm sold...  I love ebooks, and I think it's only a matter of time before they catch on in a big way!

For all you non-believers, read an ebook this week — maybe even for free — and see what the fuss is all about!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Although this book wasn't really about writing, I reviewed it on Reading 4 Writers back in September of 2006. Since I shut down my old writing-book review blog, I brought over the original review to share with you here, on Livre du Jour.

iconiconThis book, I am well aware, is not a book about writing or being a writer, per se; however, the book had a powerful impact on me as a writer, so I thought it should have a place on my blog.

In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, the writer Barbara Ehrenreich decides to find out what it's like to work minimum wage jobs in America. In order to do this, she goes undercover in three different cities, working as a waitress and a housekeeper at a hotel in one, working for a maid service (The Maids) in another, and working at Wal-Mart in the third. In each scenario, she finds it virtually impossible to squeak by on her earnings: affordable housing (at least, affordable housing for someone making $6 or $7 an hour) is difficult to find, not to mention unsafe and unsanitary when she does find it. In two of the three cities, she tries working two jobs, and still is barely able to pay rent, utilities, and food - and of course, working two jobs leaves her mind-numbingly exhausted.

This portrayal of the lowest class is definitely something to think about, especially since Ehrenreich was a single woman - think of all of those with several children to support, trying to do it on $7 an hour! Our culture is so judgmental of these people, yet it's almost our fault they are where they are: we keep repealing welfare assistance, saying that it's these people's own fault that they are poor, because all they would need to do is go out and get a job. Well, Ehrenreich has shown that is not the case: the minimum wage jobs available cannot even pay the bills, much less pull someone out of poverty.

Ehrenreich also talked about how the system - especially in places like Wal-Mart - worked to keep the poor in their place. Management who doesn't let employees "gossip" (i.e. talk amongst themselves at all), threatenes to fire them for discussing their wages (which, as I learned in this book, is actually illegal according to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935), constantly makes them feel they have no rights by invading their privacy (through tactics such as reserving the right to search their purses, instituting random and pre-employment drug tests, and asking questions about one's personal life in interviews or on pre-employment questionnaires), and belittles them in a thousand other little ways - these tactics are engineered to make the poor feel even more worthless and subhuman than they already do, trapping them emotionally as well as financially in the world of poverty.

The reason Ehrenreich's book and its "discoveries" made such an impact on me as a writer is because, for one thing, I have experienced these manipulative, you-are-the-scum-of-the-earth jobs - as I am sure everyone has. I know what it's like to feel that belittled, and I have also seen that it makes people very catty and nasty to each other when they live and work in that type of world. However, I have also - as she has - escaped most of those issues by working for myself, as a writer. Although I don't consider my income to be in the top 20% of the population by any means, as she does, I do realize that I have spared myself many of these dehumanizing experiences.

This book was a reminder to me of why I should appreciate my writing life, even when I am slammed with deadlines and have no time for myself, or experiencing a slow period that hurts my finances. I would recommend this book to any writer who is in or out of the labor force, both for the revelations it offers and for the reminder of what it is like to be poor.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

iconiconAfter taking so long to read Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition, it's been kind of nice to read a couple of books that I can finish quickly, right in a row.  I blasted right through Before I Fall — I read until 2am Tuesday night, completely unable to put it down even though I could hardly keep my eyes open, and read instead of working this morning, too.

Before I Fall has a similar theme, in a way, to If I Stay, another young adult novel about death that I read recently.  This one, however, is about a 17-year-old girl who is pretty easy to dislike at first.  She and her friends are extremely popular, and not very nice to the "lesser" students at their school.  But after a party one night, Sam and her friends are in an accident, and Sam dies.

But the story doesn't stop there.  Sam is forced to relive her last day again and again, and each time she realizes a little more about what's really important in life, and recognize the people she ought to appreciate more.  It takes some trial and error until she gets it right, but every time she gets a little closer, until finally she realizes what she has to do.

It's a beautiful story about second chances (or seventh chances, as the case may be), and realizing how much we take for granted.  It's the kind of book that I will probably be thinking about for quite a while, even though I'm done reading it.  I can't help but wonder if it affects teenage readers as deeply as it affected me.  The ideas that the novel presents — appreciation of life, the interconnectedness of things, and a deeper sense of right and wrong — usually come with experience, which means when you're older.  I don't know if any teens read my blog, but if you do, I am curious — how much did this story affect you?  Do you think it made any impact on your behavior?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Nook update and switching ebook reader apps

After my concerns regarding the Apple vs. ebook stores war, I have been giving a lot of thought to what ebook reader app I use for most of my reading.  I've been using Bluefire quite a bit for reading library ebooks, and I recently discovered that I can use it to read Barnes & Noble ebooks as well — Bluefire has the ability to read B&N's encryption.  I had to put in my account name and credit card number the first time I ever opened an encrypted B&N ebook, but it was just the one time — the app seems to remember that information for future downloads.

I made the decision to start using Bluefire for Barnes & Noble ebooks a few nights ago, after finishing Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition.  I've been reading a lot of library ebooks, so that was the first time I'd used the Nook app in a while, and I was annoyed with how many problems I had with it.  Not only was I not able to lock the orientation, but there were delays sometimes in bringing up the next page, and it also kept crashing on me.

Ironically, the day after I uploaded a bunch of my ebooks into Bluefire, the Nook app came out with an update: Now Nook for iPhone has an orientation lock.  This is good news, but it still doesn't resolve how slow the Nook app sometimes is.  I haven't read an entire book in it yet to see if crashing is still a problem.  Ironically, it does seem like they removed a feature that I liked about the Nook app — when you open the app, it no longer opens directly into the ebook you were reading last, but stops at the library menu.

Downloading the ebooks onto my computer and uploading them into Bluefire is a lot of extra work, which I wouldn't have to go through if I used the Nook app, but I like being able to turn pages without having to wait for the next one to appear.  Bluefire also rarely crashes, and opens much more quickly than Nook.  I think I'll just have to compensate by making sure I upload a wider selection of books at a time, rather than just the one I plan on reading next, so that I always have a choice if I feel like changing my mind.

Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love

iconiconI'd run across Kiss Me Deadly quite a few times, both on Barnes & Noble's website and in my library's ebook selection, but I don't usually like anthologies or collections of short stories.  Still, I decided to check it out after reading Becca Fitzpatrick's Crescendo, and noticing that she also had a short story in Kiss Me Deadly.

Ironically, I wasn't as impressed with the short story, "Dungeons of Langeais," as I was with Fitzpatrick's novels, but several other authors had short stories in here that I really enjoyed.  My favorites were "Behind the Red Door" by Caitlin Kittredge, and "Familiar" by Michelle Rowen.  "Lost" and "The Spirit Jar" were also pretty good, and "Many Happy Returns" offered an interesting take on zombies.  Carrie Ryan, who wrote The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves, had a story that explained the history of the village and one of the sisters a little bit better, and "Errant" by Diana Peterfreund has me really interested in her unicorn hunter books.

I didn't care at all for the Peter Pan story ("The Spy Who Never Grew Up"), and there was another story, "Vermillion," that I didn't even finish.  But for the most part the stories were pretty good.  I'll be checking out a few more books thanks to a couple of authors I discovered in this collection!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pride and Prejudice: The Wild & Wanton Edition

iconiconAnything that alters the original version of something is likely to be met with mixed opinions.  Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition is meant to be fun, though, so I decided to cut it some slack.  It appears to be mostly the original text of the novel, with few omissions, and some sex scenes added by Michelle Pillow (a.k.a. Annabella Bloom).  Jane Austen would be shocked, I'm sure, but it's meant in the spirit of good fun, judging by the slogan on the back of the book:

Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy FINALLY DO IT!

The ebook, which was given away free on Valentine's Day, clearly delineates the original text by putting all additions in bold.  Judging by the "look inside" feature on the paperback listing, it appears that edition is the same way.  Do note, however, that I encountered some problems with the bolding if I used certain fonts in the Nook app.  I don't know if it's the same way on the Nook itself or using other apps or readers, but I found that Ascender Sans showed the bolding, while Georgia did not.

Anyway, I appreciated that it was made clear what was the original text and what was added, but I wasn't always impressed with the additions.  Some of the sexy additions seemed somewhat lacking in taste, such as when Mr. Darcy masturbates to thoughts of Elizabeth.  At other times, it seemed to improve the story, as with Lydia's scandal (she is imagined as being promiscuous long before her elopement).

Other additions serve to expand the dialogue where Austen merely summarized the gist of a conversation, and to explain some of her wit and sarcasm.  Sometimes the former was appreciated and well done, but the latter seemed to me completely unnecessary, and almost detrimental, as Austen's dialogue and wit is all very tight in its original form.

iconiconOn the whole, while I wasn't terribly impressed, I also was not as offended as some of the reviewers on Barnes & Noble's site seem to be.  The additions are all made in the spirit of fun, and they also try to maintain Austen's style and form as much as possible.  It's not great, but it's not terrible, either.

At the time of this writing, it doesn't seem like the two available editions — paperback and ebook — are linked, so here is the link to the ebook as well.  The first link given, in the upper left, is the paperback and also the cheapest available edition. Edit 8/3/2011: While updating my affiliate links, I noticed that the paperback is no longer the cheapest edition, but I kept it as the first link in my review for simplicity's sake.

Agency pricing model on ebooks

Yesterday Random House announced, with only one day's notice, that they would be switching to the agency pricing model today, March 1st.  The agency pricing model is another gift to us from Apple, as they negotiated this idea with the major publishers when they were bringing out the iPad in part as an ebook reader.

Basically, in the agency pricing model, rather than selling ebooks to the bookseller at a wholesale price and letting the bookseller choose the markup, the publisher chooses the price and the bookseller simply gets a cut (usually 30 percent).  This article explains the agency pricing model pretty well, but they don't blame Apple, even though they say in the article that Apple was in negotiations with the publishers for this very reason.

The agency pricing model is what we have to thank for the fact that we don't get to use coupons or our Barnes & Noble memberships to get discounts on ebooks, as we would with physical books.  On the B&N forums, it is generally implied that Apple negotiated the agency pricing model on purpose to eliminate competitive pricing in the ebook market — they wanted to price their ebooks higher, but didn't want to suffer the consequences.

For some reason (hmmm, what reason could that be? maybe the elimination of the free market system?) ebooks that use the agency pricing model tend to be more expensive than others.  A lot of Random House's ebooks doubled in price overnight, and I even saw one that more than tripled.  Thank heavens I'd bought most of the ones I wanted.  The rest I guess I'll be getting from the library, because I can't stomach paying $9.99 or $12.99 for an ebook that just yesterday was available for $4.99 or $5.99.

Anyone else turned off by this whole agency pricing thing?  How does it impact the decisions you make on what ebooks you buy, and what you get from the library?