Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Slap Dash Edition

The Written Nerd is asking the question we all want answered, “What is the future of bookselling?” and inviting you wonderful people to answer. Responses may be used in a column that she is putting together for Friday. I can’t wait to read not only your thoughts, but hers, since this is a question often on my mind.

There’s a whirlwind of children’s book reviewing going on right now, and Big A little a has your hookup to learn about the best and the brightest (or the worst and the dullest) books out there for kids.

During the firestorm that was going on about ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), the selling of ARCs, and various other ARC related activities, I discovered BookCrossing, and then just the other day I had a customer come in with a book bearing (baring? Where’s my Chicago Manual of Style?) one of their labels! Check it out.

I’m going to be hosting a stop on Ayun Halliday’s virtual blog tour the 27th of June to promote her new book, Dirty Sugar Cookies. If you have any questions for Ayun or any of those other authors (Karen Karbo, Maria V. Snyder, Louise Ure, and Kate Rothwell/Summer Devon) that I said I would interview (and I totally am, I swear), please leave a note here or email them to me.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Business of Product Placement, Hand-Selling, and Integrity in the 21st Century

Found via GalleyCat, The Sunday Times talks about a subject we’ve discussed before: the business of publishing co-op, providing actual monetary figures in the range of 50,000 to 200,000. Dude, seriously? What really makes my head spin is that I know that the conversion to U.S. currency would make the number even higher. Whether or not this is comparable to what is charged here, I don’t know, but with the help of my handy calculator, I divided that 50,000 by the 542 stores said books would receive prominent placement in and came up with the amount of $92 (after rounding off the decimal) per store.

I doubt this means that you can walk into any bookstore, offer them $92, a wink and a nudge along with the words “put this some place pretty,” and get the same result.

What I found most interesting about the article is this:

“The Publishers Association, a trade body, said that 70% of promotional budgets were now spent on the so-called “below-the-line” schemes operated by bookshops rather than the more traditional advertising and posters.”

Why? Because these “below the line schemes” offer up results. People may not open up their paper and see your ad—they may not even get the paper or any one of the thousands of others out there—but they might have a greater chance of seeing your book if it has a prominent front of store placement in 542 stores.

Speaking of advertising, Mr. C. Max Magee covers the fact that Amazon has just added a new upgrade to their system called the Amazon Online Reader. Are they trying to sell access online to books without selling the hardcopy or does some of this money translate into ebook sales for the publisher?

I admit that I don’t feel qualified to really discuss the subject since I have no where near all the facts. I also have a love/hate relationship with Amazon—it acts as a default access to all the books mentioned in this blog because I want you to be able to get more information (and I’m lazy about tracking each to the publishing source), but I would much rather you buy the books from a bookstore (any bookstore). Still I think that Amazon taps into that part of us that lacks impulse control when it comes to book buying. You don’t have the sound of anyone’s voice (with it’s possible disapproving tonal inflection) telling you the price as you tap, tap, tap in your credit card number. You don’t feel the stomach drop of opening your wallet and seeing that you’ll be paying with your last twenty that you had to search for within the mass of old receipts you really are going to record in your checkbook.

And in a way, I (and other online book review sites) count on this impulse control problem to get you check out what we’re recommending and try someone you might not have otherwise picked up in a store setting. Odd, I know, since many people claim that the Amazon process kills the act of browsing wherein a customer browses the shelves of the bookstore and makes these new book discoveries on their own via the front table, store recommends (both of which you now know may be paid for by the publisher thus mudding the purity of the process thought of so highly), and the neatly arranged shelves.

One could argue, however, that blogs such as this and others offer virtual browsing, allowing you to see the recommendations of thousands without the worry that it’s all paid for product placement. No one tells me what books to inform you about and sending me an ARC does not guarantee that I’ll say wonderful glowing things about you (or even say anything at all). The only way that I (and others) would receive payment in this process would be to sign up as an Amazon associate, which would not only allow me to make some money, but also track how many of you actually use the links provided here to buy your books. That idea that I might be able to track that latter bit of information intrigues more than the monetary recompense because it could make (or break) the case for virtual handselling with the internet acting as one large bookstore.

Does this cut out the bookstore completely? No, because many of you are book people and need to feel the weight of the book in your hand before you buy, peruse the first few pages, and maybe sneak a look at the end. I don’t think that brick and mortar chains and independents will ever die for this very reason.

Whom do you trust more: the recommends at your local bookstore or those provided by readers on the thousands of different sites on the internet?

Do you read reader and bookseller review sites at all?

If you do, do you follow the links provided (whether to Amazon, Powell’s, B&N, Borders or others) to buy the books online or do you prefer to go to a bookstore and browse the book there?

There is no right or wrong answer, just what works for you. I admit that I’ve been interested in the Amazon associate idea for awhile because of these questions and how it offers up a small measurement of the power of the internet. Handselling is an art, but one that may be even more powerful when practiced virtually due to sheer quantity.

I’m interested in reading your thoughts.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Roll On, Little Sister

It’s been one of those weeks. One where not only have you taken the good with the bad, but you’ve gotten both in large, not so easy to swallow doses at the same time. One where you look back and think to yourself, “Well, I’m alive and so is everyone else, and we can still laugh, did still laugh, so we must be good.” Then you nod to yourself as you visualize that word—good—in your mind, take a deep breath and turn to help the next customer.

Good customer service is leaving your life drama at home, your work drama in the backroom, and focusing outwards: on the store, on the customer, and on the product (whatever it may be). The pleasure in having the book that someone has been looking for forever, knowing what that hopelessly garbled summary was referring to, and being on the receiving end of a mostly toothless grin from a small child can make you forget just about anything. And when it doesn’t, good customer service is also knowing when you need to get out from behind that counter to go hide out in the backroom, and having coworkers that understand and facilitate that escape.

As my freight driver always says, “Life is all ups and downs and you just got to roll with it, Little Sister. Go with the flow.”

So whether you’re in the mood to roll on, roll away, or not roll at all this long weekend, here’s some stuff to think about:

According to USA Today, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be available in paperback July 26th in a duel release in the United Kingdom and the United States. The price will be $9.99. (B&N backs up this news here.) The news was included at the end of their critics picks for the summer, which included many new releases across the genres.

Marley Youmans emailed me about her interview with Corey Mesler of Burke’s Books—an independent that has suffered severe difficulties as of late—and I thought I would pass along the word. If you are interested in the plight of the small independent store, want to help, or just read the interview, check out what Corey has to say here (you may have to weed through the archives because direct linking may be an issue).

A widely-read book sleuth may have solved a query that has been plaguing this site for quite sometime. Stacey (proving once again that you people rock) believes that the Harlequin Presents that Anonymous was looking for may be Penny Jordan’s Out of the Night.

“It's Harlequin Presents, 1992. The introverted heroine takes shelter in a stranger's vehicle during a snowstorm, and they do have sex. On the cover she's wearing a yellowish? maybe orange or brown? blouse. The hero is wearing a plaid jacket. However, on leafing through it, I don't see anything about the heroine having a makeoever. Still, this is probably the book you want? It's a good one.”

If Anonymous is still out there, I hope this helps.

C. Max Magee of The Millions has a very interesting post (with more links) about book banning called, “Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?” Not only do I think that the Freakonomics guys have hit on a great way to get even more readers, but the post brought back fond memories of reading the Awakening in high school. I still remember my A.P. English teacher asking us, “Alright what did you guys think of the sex scene?” and the whole class responding, “Wait? There was a sex scene?!”

The sound of mass page flipping could be heard several doors down, I’m told.

Powell’s is unveiling (or has been unveiling since I’m a bit late to this) author trading cards on their blog. Now you can be like all the cool kids and trade them with friends or put them on your bike to make that awesome slapping sound as you ride around trying to save money by not using gas (money you will in turn spend on books, of course). The perfect gift for the bibliophile that has everything.

I’m sure that there will be more links and such later. I’d actually like to try to respond to some of the points brought up on the “Secretly Starbucks Owns This Blog” thread. Oh, and a clarification on the “Author’s Behaving Badly” thread: the bookseller who told the customer that the author had behaved rudely found the customer an alternative book by a different author. It was not a matter of “cutting off the nose to spite the face” and losing a sale, just deflecting the customer’s attention from that book before recommending another (well liked) author. The problem with working at a bookstore (or library) is that you will never be able to read every book in the store and so sometimes the only impressions you may ever get is from your interactions with the author. Personally I think that we should draw up some kind of code of conduct for all of us to try to adhere to, but until then I’m going to get some food.

Have a great weekend. Be safe, be happy and focus on the good.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Secretly Starbucks Owns This Blog

I’ve come to the opinion that secretly Starbucks actually rules the book world. No, not because there is a Starbucks on every corner or because I may have sold them my soul yesterday for a Venti Caramel Macchiato (which is sad because for much of my life I was a peaceful, tea-drinking person). My belief stems from there being a Starbucks in every Barnes and Noble, luring the bookish folks to grab a mocha before finding their book of choice, and a Seattle’s Best (owned by Starbucks) in every Borders taking over the café half of the business. Any day now I expect to see a Publisher’s Weekly article on the B&N-Borders merger headed by Howard Schultz and Jim Donald (who took the place of Orin Smith), bringing coffee and books together forever.

The logo for the new super chain would be the little fishy woman holding a book.

Were this to happen, indies would scream, the apocalypse would begin, I would get better health insurance and that book industry would never be the same because Starbucks is in the business of taking chances even if it doesn’t look like it on our level.

But this is not a blog about Starbucks.

In the May 22nd edition of Business Week, Stanley Holmes wrote an article called, “Into the Wild Blog Yonder,” about Boeing (and Boeing’s Vice President of Marketing, Randy Baseler) opening up to the internet community and criticism by starting a blog. They (Boeing and Randy) took some hits in the beginning (they didn’t allow comments right away), but soon they started offering information on the world of airplanes and airlines that hadn’t been available before and—more importantly—some accountability to the public by making themselves accessible. They also started using blogs internally so that workers could publicly (well, as public as a private, only-for-the-company’s-use forum can get) post their questions and reservations anonymously. Suddenly the lowliest low’s opinions could reach the tippity-top without going through a whole chain of managers. Did these blogs make a difference? Boeing thinks so, and it’s not the first to use this system, apparently Disney, McDonald’s and General Motors do as well.

But this is not a blog about Boeing, Disney, McDonald’s or General Motors.

This is a blog about books, and bookstores, and readers and authors. It’s not supported by my chain, or a reflection of it, which is why I blog anonymously. It’s not something I get paid to do (although believe you me, if I could figure out a way to make some ethically viable money off of it I would ‘cause I’m greedy like that, and, well, poor), but something I do because I love books and I love looking into the book world’s future and drawing conclusions. And my conclusion here? We, bookstores big and small, could learn from Starbucks and Boeing. Does this mean that I think that Stephen Riggio and Greg Josefowicz (have they found anyone to replace him yet?) should open themselves up to every Tom, Dick and Harry with access to the internet? No, they wouldn’t get anything done, but should these companies have a way to make themselves accountable via something more than the customer service hotline? Yes.

In the Boeing article Charlene Li, who’s an analyst for the Forrester Research Inc., said, “Companies are nervous about creating external blogs because they fear the negative comments. But negative comments do exist. A company is better off knowing about them.” If you know about them you can address them, you can deal with them, and you can reshape company policy if the issue is big enough. You won’t get blind-sided…or at least not as much.

Of course, as we’ve discussed before, the community on the internet is not always reflective of the community as a whole. But the internet community is where companies are trying to win the battles now, it’s where the news is getting picked up, sent out and disseminated. For a small scale Indie this may or may not make a difference. The most important thing is for an Indie to be part of their community, not necessarily subject to the whims of the whole nation like nationwide stores. But nationwide chains have stores in communities. They should acknowledge and conform to the wants and needs of their customers like Indies have the freedom to do. They should form relationships with the other stores in their area and work towards providing the best books available for their customer.

Customer loyalty comes from happy customers. Happy customers come from California Cheese giving them what they want with good service, no judgment and a smile. We can argue all day about deep discounts ruining business for Indies and pulling down Chain profit margins while they try to compete with Target, Walmart and Costco. We can point fingers and call each other whiney, or uncaring, or overwhelmed.

This won’t get anything done.

What will is to look ahead, take chances, embrace the different, the local, and the large and small scale.

Embrace our customers.

Embrace the publishers and writers that bring business to our stores.

And in the middle of all this embracing and book lovin’ build a community that keeps people coming back, keeps stores—Indie and Chain—open, and keeps us all reading.

And if we need to use the internet, public signings, fire-eaters, newspapers, and our voices to do that, then let’s do it.

So I ask you, dear reader, what would make your book buying experience better today?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Oh My God, I'm going to be late for work!

I’m going to blame atmospheric pressure for the fact that I didn’t put up anything yesterday. I had plenty of links, thoughts, and the start of a mental diatribe that would transfer well to paper, but I just felt bleh. Unmotivated. This doesn’t affect my work because there are people there, demanding my attention, asking questions, there’s no time to feel bleh. But at home?

Blehness indeed. Especially when I take into account that I have a huge amount of cleaning to do.

This half-assed apology has nothing to do with today though, where though I feel like the recently reanimated dead (zombie anyone?) I have many links and other fun things to share with you. Go buy grocercies? Hah! That can wait another day. Cleaning? Why? Nothing here has killed me yet.

Um, anywho…

The newest scandal to breach the internet waters is the fact that the website Absolute Write was taken down, apparently due to a vindictive agent on their 20 worst agents list. Teresa Hayden of Making Light has the heads up on this folly as well as some solutions (in the comments section).

Christopher Moore saves Prom! Yep, you heard me. Meg Cabot covers the whole thing on her blog (towards the bottom of the post). And then, to make it even better, he posted his “I do not read” essay on his website (and you people wonder why I love this man). This essay is the perfect example of not only why some people shouldn’t do their own readings (it’s not a requirement), but some of the humorous ways you can deflect doing a reading. Yes, he did have to read this, but he looked pained the entire time. In a funny way, of course.

Yet another blog is becoming a book, says GalleyCat, and this time it is David Lorenzo who wrote Career Intensity. I don’t know if this bothers me less because it is a business book, or because I’m just getting so run down by the blog to book transitions that I don’t care anymore. As long as it isn’t My Space to books…I would hate to have more Myspace Junkies running around (thanks to Fuse#8 for the link).

The Written Nerd continues her BEA information relay (okay, yes, I did just want that to rhyme, I told you that I’m zombie girl today), with a blog entitled, “Blogs, Books, and the Anti-Indie Backlash.” This column is thought-provoking and thoroughly distracting because it hits on stuff that I’ve been thinking about (due to the articles she mentions, your reactions in the “Authors Behaving Badly” column where you talked of booksellers—indie and chain—behaving badly, and my own interactions with different chains and indie bookstores).

Monday, May 22, 2006


Like I needed another time wasting thing in my life, but I have finally given in and tried LibraryThing. I've already cataloged most of my living room. It's only a matter of time before I hit my bedroom next.

Dear lord.

Heads Up, Seven Up

I have a post up over at Romancing the Blog called, “Looking Into My Magic Eight Ball and Spying Jack Sparrow (Among Others),” if you are interested. Nothing too exciting, just my thoughts on trends in Romance. I decided they probably weren’t ready for my diatribe against bookmarks since it seems to make many authors sad.

The Written Nerd has great BEA recap linkage going on over at her blog. Almost as good as being there (or at least that’s what I tell myself).

Meanwhile I think I’ve found the band of my heart, the group that I will follow everywhere, squeal in fangirlish delight over, and for whom I will bear the lead singer’s children. Now if only I can find a way to tell Mom and Dad.

In keeping with our promotional themed posts over the last few days, Booksquare discusses “When Thinking Out of the Box, Actually Leave the Box.” Dear Lord. Personally I think that it is only alright to dress as your character if you write Manga and you’re Cosplaying, or maybe if you write stuff for D&D.

Jane of Dear Author has a post up about whether shelving Aphrodisia, Spice and other new erotic lines in the Romance section is tantamount to false advertising given that they “would not be considered romance by many traditionalists.”

Over at Bookslut, Bookslut in Training gives some love to the Girl Detective, which reminds me of when I first discovered Nancy Drew and I wanted to be a girl detective. This stage was soon followed by the one where I discovered Indiana Jones, and I wanted to be him…or a female version of him. My dreams were cruelly crushed when my parents refused to help me find someone to teach me how to use a bull whip.

Those are the links for now. I’ll be back later with news, tools, lists and random topics on the world of books. That is if I don’t lose my power again.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wait, They Don’t Love You Like I Love You (Thinking Beyond the Internet)

PBW posted at Romancing the Blog today about what you need to do to maintain a successful weblog. Don’t let the romance content of the site turn you off because the advice she offers applies to everyone who’s trying to build a readership. It does not, however, address what you should do for your other readers—those who do not have the internet. The truth is that many people still do not have home computers (or computers at all) and (surprise, surprise) this allows them more time to read books that they are interested in.

These people remain untouched by weblogs, blog tours, online articles and message boards, but they are a strong, vital part of your readership. They learn about your books from magazines, other books, booksellers and through a passing comment from a friend or coworker. And if they like you?

Well, then they pass along your name and words to someone else that they hope will love you just as much.

The world of the internet and its readership does not represent the trends of your readership as a whole, so when you are planning your strategy for book world domination, remember these folks and target them accordingly.

The only question is how?


Thursday, May 18, 2006

So Where Do We Go From Here?

A lot of the comments on the Authors Behaving Badly thread are from people appalled that bad behavior takes place, others point out that the bookseller should forgive and forget, while booksellers counter with stories of authors that don’t even try. Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s look at the positive (and take advantage of the hoards Agent Kristin has sent this way).

What things at author signings have worked for you as a reader, as an author or as a bookseller?

What do you (the author) do to get the attention of customers and possible readers without attacking them (something that booksellers fear on some level)?

What do you as booksellers do to make a signing go as smoothly as possible?

What do you do when only three people sign up?

Drive-by signings, are you for or against?

Lets help everyone out by compiling a list, some fall back plans for when signings don’t go as planned. You’re not giving away state secrets. Chances are what works for you won’t work for everyone else, nor will it take away from your presentation if someone adopts certain aspects (they’re probably going to put their own spin on it).

Right now I hear that Ariel Gore, author of the Traveling Death and Resurrection Show, is traveling with fire eaters and other circus type performers. As someone who runs a bookstore I admit that part of me shudders at the thought of trying to get permits for fire-eating, but the spectacle? I’m thinking it would draw quite the crowd.

So tell me what you think, know or hear. Let’s help each other out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Authors Behaving Badly

(ETA: Hate the negative? The accentuate the positive and go to "Where Do We Go From Here?" to add your thougts, opinions and observations.)

I can’t remember if anyone has ever asked me about how an author’s behavior affects how I buy and sell their books, but I figured I should address it. Lately I’ve noticed there has been much discussion around the blogosphere about authors behaving badly in the internet setting and how that affects their readers. Personally I don’t care how authors behave on the internet. I’m a pretty easy going person, but I know that it takes about a second to hit the post or send button when you’ve just completed a rant. This is a second where you (usually) don’t have someone around to say, “Why don’t you think about this for awhile,” or, “take a deep breath before you speak.” It’s a second where you are alone, seething in front of your computer, and you have that small touch of anonymity that comes from the fact that no one can see your face. Combine this with the fact that it is far too easy to misconstrue what someone actually meant from their post (seeing how you lack important facial expressions, hand motions and voice quality to give you more clues), and I’m sure we’ve all had our words twisted, or twisted another’s in a moment that we may (or may not) wish we could take back.

But while author behavior on the internet doesn’t bother me, author behavior my store can be a defining moment. Now I know that communication takes two people, and so does an argument. I know that our feelings and emotions are affected by what we experience our whole day long, and a blow up at one incident may have been built up by the anger at many other small things. That said, if you are an author and you go into a bookstore to do a drive-by or a signing, you better be on your best behavior. Because whatever you do there will get back to other booksellers, it will get back to other stores (because we’re a hugely incestuous lot and tend to hang out with other booksellers), and it will get back to the customers.

Think about it. You’re having a bad day (maybe your car died, you have jet lag, your last signing had only three people at it, or all of these things happened on the same day), and you yell at a bookseller when they can’t find your books at your next stop. Maybe you apologize immediately, maybe you stomp out, maybe you only sign your hardbacks and completely ignore the paperbacks they finely find because you are through. Done. You’ve had it for the day. When you get home you have a glass of wine, dinner, and a bath and all is right with your world again.

But meanwhile back at the bookstore, the bookseller has told everyone about your behavior…including the people who have showed some interest in buying the signed copies. And customers that come up asking about said author’s book on the endcap because they’ve never heard of it?

Oh dear.

I actually watched a bookseller tell a customer once that she wouldn’t know, she refused to read so-in-so’s books because they’d been a raging bitch to another bookseller (one who worked in a completely different store). There was no debate after that. No hesitation because the book sounded interesting. The customer put the book back down.

Is the author the book? No. Many really horrible people have written beautiful books.

Should we all take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that maybe we’re not the target or that everyone has an off day? Sure, and in a perfect world that would happen, but this is not a perfect world. Authors, booksellers and readers are all connected together by a chain, and if someone damages one of the links it affects the whole set up.

The faceless internet may not affect my opinion about you or your novel, but a full frontal confrontation? That’s something booksellers talk about for years.

We have enough customers behaving badly, don’t make us throw authors into the mix as well.

Your thoughts?

Monday, May 15, 2006

SB Day: The Things You Leave Behind

Kate posted asking for any Traditional Regency Romance recommendations yesterday and it got me thinking. I’ve never been a Traditional Regency reader; I think that I devoured some during the time when organic chemistry ruled my brain, but after that? Not so much. My interaction with the Trads tends to be limited to shelving them, helping customers find them, and wondering if I should shelve them with the monthlies so they can all be in one spot.

Not a sub-genre that I dwell on overly much.

But I had this one gentleman, an older shopper in his late seventies, who used to come in and buy them from us. He never asked for help, never introduced himself, and I don’t think I ever knew his name, but weekly he would come in. Always in his golfer cap, buttoned down shirt, sweater, and slacks, always perfectly pressed, he would make his slow shuffle to the romance section and pick out one—only ever one—book to purchase.

His cap was gray.

His shirt always some type of plaid.

And there was always this little spot on the side of his neck that he seemed to forget to shave. I don’t know if he realized. Or if he cared.

Or if he had someone to care about it for him.

But I remember he always would make me smile, silent though our interaction was, because he never made it further than the bench outside our doors before he would sit down and start reading his purchase. He never read very long, just a few pages to get the first taste, but always, always, I could look up after he left and find him sitting there, book cracked open in his lap.

I haven’t seen him since last fall.

I don’t know if he died, or had to move to a care home, or was hospitalized. I don’t know his name, so I can’t even check the obits.

No one would think to tell a bookseller that a customer that they saw but did not carry on conversations with passed on.

I like to think that he’s moved to be with his family or to see some friends, and even now he’s wandering into a bookstore in Florida, Arizona or California, shuffling into its romance section, and selecting the newest Traditional Regency or reprint.

I like to think that he still doesn’t make it past the nearest chair or bench to start reading his choice.

And I like to think that somewhere another bookseller is smiling the same smile I do whenever I shelve a Traditional Regency and I think of him.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Links and Lessons: Reading Lists, Success, and Food Tasting (Oh Joy!)

The sun is out, the air is warm, and I have a Mother’s Day Brunch to get to, but I thought I’d share a few things first:

  • Found via Big A Little a, Slayground has compiled several children’s reading lists featuring themes like strong women, school settings, books for young boys, and fairy tales retold. Since y’all seem to like lists, I thought you would be interested.

  • Conversational Reading has a great column (with links to other columns) about pushy publicists (found via Booksquare).

  • Mapletree7 of Book of the Day is doing her own survey of the best books of the last 25 years because she feels we bloggers we snubbed. Given that y’all have been so delightfully responsive about the midlist authors, I say head on over and help her out.

  • Because they are contrary as well as Smart Bitches, the ladies at Smart Bitches Love Trashy Novels have decided to come up with the list of the worst books in the last 25 years. It appears to be focused on, but not limited to, romance fiction.

  • The list of Midlist, it grows daily, but even better, I’ve heard back from the first round of authors I contacted. Success! In the coming days and weeks we’ll be having interviews or guestblogs or something wacky and crazy, I’m sure. But to kick this author crazed event off, we have this little teaser from Maria V. Snyder, the author of Poison Study, on how to be a food taster:

How to Become a Food Taster in 5 Easy Steps:

1. Amass a file folder full of technical articles on tasting. Having a husband who is an expert in “tasting” and has a degree in engineering helps. Just show appropriate interest to husband and wait.

2. Read and digest technical articles (more than you thought possible). Titles range from the intriguing, “Learning and Speaking the Language of Flavor,” to the scientific, “The Flavor-Fusion Illusion; The Psychology of Flavor,” to the fun, waist-expanding, “How to be a Knowledgeable and Discriminating Ice Cream Gourmet.” At the end of this step, you will know more about the tongue than you really wanted to know (trust me!).

3. Learn about the appropriate tasting methods. Tasting is not just about the flavor, it’s a complex mixture of sensory data. The smell, how food feels in the mouth or “mouthfeel,” and even how it looks are all important. Or you can use the classic 11-year-old boy quick, “If it smells good, it’ll taste good,” test for unknown edibles.

4. Practice methods learned in step three using chocolate (Why use anything else?). Examine the chocolate. Is it smooth? Does it give a nice clean snap when broken in half? Free of that white stuff (i.e. bloom)? Smell it. Put a piece in your mouth. Let it melt and coat your tongue. Swallow a little bit to cover the back of your tongue. How does it feel in your mouth? How does it taste? Gritty? Bitter? Fruity? Sweet? After you swallow it note the aftertaste. Make notes (or not, depends on your ability to remember). Drink some room temperature water to cleanse the palate. Repeat analysis with different chocolates as many times as needed (if questioned, tell others with a haughty air, that you’re eating chocolate for science). After sampling, compare and determine the best one. How? The best one will be the chocolate you liked the most.

5. Use these methods on all kinds of food and impress friends and relatives. And if you encounter any “off” flavors, “strange” smells, or “unusual” tastes in your meal, review your recent history. Fired anyone? Cut someone off on the highway? Forgot to send your mother flowers on Mother’s Day? If the answer is “yes” to any or all questions, throw food away and don’t feed it to your dog (unless you’re looking to get a new dog).

Good things to know if you ever find yourself the forced foodtaster for a dictator. Are you intrigued enough about these points to learn more about her book? Will this help?

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace--and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly Dust--and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay the agonizing death from the poison. As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers! Hope you get some nice cards, some warm hugs, and bit o' the sparkly.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The List As It Stands So Far

Okay everyone, here is the list so far for the writers you think deserve more, more, MORE recognition. Please continue to add more authors to the list here when you think of them. If I’ve made any mistakes on the list below, or forgotten someone that you commented about, please let me know. I only spent an hour researching and typing this up this morning, so I’m sure it’s not perfect.


Suzanne Strempek Shea (Becoming Finola, Washington Square Press)*
Judith Ryan Hendricks (Bread Alone)
Ayelet Waldman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Mommy Track Mysteries)*
Jean Hegland (Into the Forest and Windfall)
Jennifer Vanderbes (Easter Island, Debut Novel)
Christopher Bram (Father of Frankenstein/Gods and Monsters, Harper Perennial)
Brenda Scott Royce (Monkey Love, Debut, NAL)
Karen Karbo (Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me et al)+
Bill Roorbach (The Smallest Color, Counterpoint Press)
Christopher Moore (Lamb/Fluke/Dirty Job, William Morrow/Harper Collins)*


Maria V. Snyder (Poison Study, Luna)+
Rachel Caine (Weather Warden Series, ROC)
Wen Spencer (Wolf Who Rules/Ukiah Oregon Series, Baen)
Laura Resnick (Disappearing Nightly, Luna)
Martha Wells (Ile-Rien Trilogy, Eos)
Stephen Baxter (Manifold Series, Del Rey)
Guy Gavriel Kay (Fionavar Tapestry Series, Eos)*
Juliet E. McKenna (Aldabreshin Compass Series, Tor)


Louise Ure (Forcing Amaryllis, Debut Novel, Warner)+
Cara Black (The Aimee Leduc Mysteries, Soho Crime)
Erin Hart (Haunted Ground, Pocket Star)*
William Kent Krueger (“Cork” O’Connor Mysteries, Atria)
Brian Freeman (Immoral, St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Mary Logue (Bone Harvest, Fawcett)
Stephanie Barron (The Jane Austin Mysteries, Bantam)
Lisa Reardon (Mercy Killers, Counterpoint Press)


Marianna Jameson (My Hero)
Kathleen Eschenburg (Nightingale’s Song/Seen By Moonlight, HarperTorch)
Pamela Britton (In the Groove, HQN)
Diane Farr (Under a Lucky Star, Signet)
Kate Rothwell/Summer Devon (Somebody to Love, Zebra—as Rothwell)+
Teresa Bodwell (Loving Miranda, Zebra)
Nancy Butler (Kindness of a Rogue, Signet)
Carla Kelly (Wedding Journey, Signet)
Dawn Thompson (Waterlord/Ravencliff Bride, Love Spell)
Elizabeth Sinclair (Miracle in the Mist, Medallion Press)
Paula Reed (Into His Arms/Nobody’s Saint, Zebra)
Flo Fitzpatrick (Hot Stuff, Zebra)
Leslie LaFoy (Her Scandalous Marriage, St. Martin’s Press)

Young Adult

Carrie Asai (Samurai Girl Series, Simon Pulse)
Marly Youmans (Curse of the Raven Mocker/Ingledove, Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Mariah Fredericks (Crunch Time/The True Meaning of Cleavage, Atheneum)

Also Rans (We love them, but so does everyone else)

Deidre Martin (Romance, USA Today Bestselling Author)
Jennifer Crusie (Romance/Fiction, NYT Bestselling Author
Mary Roach (Science/Nonfiction, NYT Bestselling Author)
Susan Kearney (Romance, USA Today Bestselling Author)

Not Available/Out of Print

Christos Tsiolkas (Not Available in the United States)

*Noted to be National or International Bestsellers without any indication what lists they were on, will probably be bumped to the back of the list.

+Writers who have been contacted (or that I’m in the process of emailing) about participating in some way with this blog.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gift Recommendations and Pleading

If you are still looking for that perfect Mother’s Day gift for the Mom who is either a writer or an actor aficionado, check out In Character: Actors Acting by Howard Schatz. Actors from Edie Falco to Giancarlo Esposito are given one line descriptions of their character and then photographed in black and white. A study in faces, facial ticks, and reactions that prove that communication really is 93% physical. At fifty dollars (before discount) this beautiful coffee table book should waylay any guilt you might feel about not buying her something else and provide a great conversation piece as you flip through the pages and say, “Oh, so that’s who that guy is! I remember him from…”

If you are through shopping, however, then you have no excuse not to be adding midlist authors to this list. I’ve already started composing the emails that I plan to send out. Support your favorite, not-so-famous author by adding their name. You can post anonymously, so come on!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Rise to Greatness: the Power of a Single Reader

On the thread “In Praise of Midlist” Jane of Dear Author said:

Jayne and I were actually talking about this after we ran the ebook contest. Who is considered midlist and how do we find out about them?

Good question. The truth is that the vast majority of authors out there are midlisters according to this definition from Wikipedia:

Midlist is a term in the publishing industry which refers to books which are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication (and likely, further purchases of future books from the same author). The vast majority of total titles published are midlist titles, though they represent a much smaller fraction of total book sales, which are dominated by bestsellers and other very popular titles.

Authors who consistently publish acceptable but not bestselling books are referred to as Midlist authors.

This fits with what I said about the author not having “NYT Bestselling” or “USA Today Bestselling” above their title or name. These authors don’t get the same marketing treatment as James Patterson or Nora Roberts, and they don’t yet have the rabid following of Robert Jordan or Elizabeth Peters. It doesn’t mean that they don’t write damn good books, it’s just that they have yet to have one break out and make them a star. Maybe it will eventually happen on the fifth or sixth book, sending the sales of their backlist sky-rocketing (like it did with Dan Brown). Maybe it will never happen but it doesn’t matter because this writer is making a living from their words. No one wants to be midlist, but chances are that’s where you’ll be for a chunk of your writing career (unless your first book is a breakout sensation).

So, okay, the large majority of the writers out there are midlist. So what? How do we hear about them?

Well, I usually find my shelving, skimming the backs of the books before I put them away, but that wasn’t always the case. You can find multitudes of Midlist writers out there on the web, trucking along on their blog, or being reviewed on other sites. Maybe they’ve won awards. Maybe they run writing seminars or critique groups. Maybe they just sit up in their ivory tower and write all day, eschewing any sort of publicity dog and pony show that may or may not get their name out there. Who knows?

What you can do, as a reader, is get their name out there. Pass one of their books on to a friend. Do the grassroots word of mouth thing. If you love this author, or even just think that they put out a damn good product, then go to this thread and leave their name (and a title or why you like them). If you are not sure if they are midlist, don’t worry. I’ll check. For your troubles one of you (names drawn from the baby shower tin, of course) will get a copy of a book of your choice (from the list), and to further up the ante, I will host something about that author/book/series on this blog. I’ll track down the author and do an interview if I have to; I’ll coble together something to help sell your midlister to the rest of the people who come here.

Maybe they’ll catch on.

Maybe their next book will pop onto the NYT extended list or make onto USA Today.

All because of you.

So here’s your chance to pick a handsell book that I’ll turn around and try to sell to the rest of this readership, and maybe they’ll like it enough to pass it along. If you can't think of any, get a friend's recommendation. This isn't genre specific.

Is this madness? Perhaps. But let’s give it a try.

Show an author you love them.


And to remind us that just because you're midlist it doesn't mean that your company doesn't love you, Book Rep added this in the comments section that I'm afraid people might miss:

I'm a publisher's sales rep, so let me give you another, more literal, definition of mid-list. When we sit down with the bookstore's buyer, we are presenting our list for the season. At the top of the list are our huge authors, yes, but also any other book the publisher has decided to put its muscle behind. Maybe you never heard of the author, but the book gets a two page spread in the first few pages of the catalog, gets a ton of marketing money, gets an author tour. We are saying: "these are our big books this season." At the bottom of the list are the reissues, the featured backlist, the westerns and mysteries produced by syndicates and packagers. Everything else is mid-list, the books between the top and bottom. The term has evolved from meaning "where the book is in the catalog and on the order form" to this faintly pejorative sense, but there are huge numbers of wonderful authors who can't quite command top billing but nonetheless do very well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

SB Day: Recipes for the Heart

On this Smart Bitches day instead of talking about Romance, the genre of fiction, let’s talk about the other kind of romance.

ro·mance (rō-măns', rō'măns')n.
  • A love affair.

  • Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love: They kept the romance alive in their marriage for 35 years.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and while many might claim that it is a mere Hallmark Holiday invented to get you to spend money, others are out there desperately searching for the perfect gift for their wife, mother, sister, or daughter. These men and woman are looking for the perfect way to say “I love you, and I’ve been thinking about you,” and according to the latest numbers I’ve seen America believes in saying this with a cookbook.

That’s right. A cookbook. Giada, Rachel, and this guy who goes by Naked are all flying off my shelves to go home to a mom near you.

This is not a new phenomenon; at Christmas we renamed Rachel Ray Mrs. Claus because she was finding her way under so many Christmas trees. I’m sure if you looked at sales numbers for cookbooks throughout the decades you would notice a bump around the holidays because nothing says “I love you” like “Here’s this cookbook now get in the kitchen and make me this pie.”

You see, the problem with cookbooks is that there seems to be some sort of expectation with them. By giving someone a cookbook, especially your mom, you seem to be saying “Here, try some new recipes because I don’t like what you’re making.” It’s not the intent, I’m sure, but there is that belief that you’ll be there to taste the results. It’s not an unselfish giving.

I know that there are people out there that love to get cookbooks (I’m a bit of a Cooking Light food porn whore myself), but the giving of a cookbook—especially on Mother’s Day—appears to be a cop-out. For many it’s the “I don’t know what to get you, Mom, so I got you this.”

If you want to get her something food-related then go with chocolate, or an IOU for a nice meal out (just the two of you) at her favorite restaurant or someplace new. Or maybe instead you can get her some fun candles, or funky coasters, or a pretty necklace. You could put together a gift basket of gift cards to her favorite stores and shops. Gifts don’t have to be expensive or gratuitous, just a way to say “I love you with no strings attached, and I’ve been paying attention to what you like.”

Remember, if you don’t know what to get her or it comes down to a time crunch, you don’t need a cookbook she may or may not want to say “I love you,” a card will suffice just as well and without the possibility of it being returned.

So what are some Mother’s Day gifts that you’ve given that have gone over spectacularly in the past?

(Some people would love the help.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

That Time of the Year

On this day in the year 1862 the Mexican army defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla. A century (plus a decade or two) later, on this very same day, a squalling baby girl was born into (unto?) this world, and was greeted by the sights of piñatas and streamers and the sounds of the mariachi. While these things had absolutely nothing to do with her birth (and everything to do with handing the French their ass) the little girl didn’t know this, and grew up believing that Mexico loved and celebrated her existence, which may explain her unusual dependency on tequila, guacamole, and carnitas.

Eventually the girl did learn a few simple truths:

  • Jose Cuervo is not your friend (or really even a tequila).

  • Piñatas are a lot harder to break than they look.

  • It’s hard to speak a second language while inebriated.

  • And maybe, just maybe, Mexico doesn’t care about this strange cosmic coincidence, but it doesn’t hurt to try and let them know.

So basically what I’m saying is, “Feliz cumpleaños a mi!” Break out my men, Don Julio and Patron, and slice me up some orange (the viewing audience is free to try this at home). I made it through another year without doing any lasting physical harm to anyone (including myself), this deserves a round…and a celebration, so join me, Mexico.

I was going to be good and try to compile the list y’all have been building of your favorite midlisters, but you’re going to have to wait a day or two to see the final results. I’m not feeling too literary at the moment, so unless someone wants to offer me a ARC of Victoria Finlay’s newest, Jewels (which really is a very unselfish request as it’s really for me, the artist and the professor, the last two of whom will not buy the book until its out in paperback anyway, but why should they suffer that long), the new Shannon McKenna that’s not out yet (and if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right), or Wentworth Miller’s phone number (‘cause I think the man went to college for some literary degree or the like), this book chick will be out of commission for today.

And possibly tomorrow.

But rest assured, I’ll return a little older, a little wiser, and quite possibly a little hung over, but without a permanent police record.

So stop reading this and go add your midlist authors to this list!

Have you told an author you love them today?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

In Praise of Midlist

You can be an excellent writer and be stuck somewhere in Midlist land* either due to circumstance, lack of hype, or a bad alignment of the stars. It’s not a bad place to be—sure, you’re not making the NYT Bestsellers list, but you’re not broke either—but it can be a hard place to break free.

Sometimes you need a little help from your friends.

So today’s the day we celebrate midlist authors we love, ones who don’t get enough attention, recognition, or money. Do your part as a reader to get their name out there, and provide some free marketing for the author that gave you a welcomed read.

For my part I’m going with the two books I’m reading at the moment:

Crunch Time, by Mariah Fredericks, a novel of high school and the SATs (YA). Four unique characters tell the tale of the SATs, studying, high school and cheating in this fun, engaging read.

Her Scandalous Marriage, by Leslie LaFoy, the tale of the bastard daughter of the former Duke of Ryland. LaFoy a favorite of mine because she takes romance conventions and twists them. This is no naïve girl and her hero is equally complex as they negotiate the Victorian time period trying to find their places.

Now it’s your turn. Pick your favorite midlisters, or just people who have given you a good read lately that don’t get enough credit. Post their names, titles and why they rock in the comments section and we’ll compile a list. I’ll draw a name from everyone who posts and that person can pick which of the available (I’m not searching for out of print books) books they would like to read and thus also helping out the midlister chosen.

We cool?

Good. Make with the recommendations.

*A place where titles like “Blank on the NYT bestseller list” or “blank on the USA Today bestseller list” fear to tread.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Suburban, Urban, Gas Guzzling Book Mama

I have less than ten minutes to write this, but in an effort to not phone it in and actually keep up with the wonderful points y’all bring up in the comments I had to post. On “For Love or MoneyChristine said:

“I'm not sure if you're located in a big city or not. If you are, consider the commuters who take the bus, subway etc. I'm one of those, and I'm still buying as many books and other media as I did before. I don't suspect they'll be affected as badly as those who do drive. However, I imagine if you are located in surbubia, there will be a higher loss.”

Very good point. I have worked in suburban areas and I’m sure that they may be hit harder than the urban stores when it comes to people choosing gas over books. Currently I work in an urban area surrounded by a transit mall, many commuters, and yet I’m still seeing a change in book buying habits. This is perhaps why I’m worried more because if they are restricting during the week (and their commute) what are they doing on their weekends when they visit their suburban stores (which many of my customers tell me they do)?

I do try to think happy thoughts as Robin (a smart lady whose blog you should visit) pointed out:

“So yes, gas prices are horrendous right now. People are freaked about their money. It's ridiculous what it costs to commute to jobs that still pay what they did when gas was a more reasonable $2.00 a gallon(ha!). But people need books. People need to escape. They crave it like they crave sugar and caffeine. So while there might be a downturn in book sales for a while, it won't last forever. Meanwhile writers should keep writing, book sellers should do what they can to keep putting books into people's hands, and let's all just keep breathing and wait for the cycle to turn.Happy thought for the day.”

But I remain worried. I don’t remember where I read this, and I really don’t have time to search for a link, but it used to be that in times of economic downturns book sales went up. A book lasts longer than a movie, dance night, etc, the way of thinking went. But in our last economic oops, booksales did not show the dramatic increase expected, and one of the reasons given for that was the pervasiveness of the internet. People are spending more time online (admit it, you could actually be reading a book instead of reading this), more time playing video games and more time watching TV, all of which results in less books read.

And that’s when my stomach gets that unhappy feeling.

So I ask you, do you think the other opportunities for escapism (videos, movies, games, the internet) cut in on your reading time? Is it something you even consider?

Yes I know that asking book people that probably isn’t the best idea, so I’ll add this on as well:

For those of you who commute into cities, do you find your urban shopping habits (when you have to take the bags back to work) differ from your suburban shopping habits? Or have you noticed this quirk in others around you?

I’ll post more on this later…

(And by later I mean hopefully before the end of the year.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

For Love or Money

I brought this up the other day when talking about Viswanathan, but I feel like the subject is of my importance than the use of parentheses suggested. The subject of which I speak: the cost of books. The reason why it’s is so important right now: the ever rising cost of gas.

They teach in science that every cause has an effect, and that effect can be multiple things. With gas prices rising ever higher people have less disposable income to use to buy unnecessary items, and while many of us here may feel that it is first books then food and rent, for most of America that is not the case. I’ve heard it said that gas prices will rise to $3.50 or more this summer, which means that the cost of one paperback book (retail $6.99 to $7.99) equals two gallons of gas, the cost of one premium paperback ($9.99) is then three gallons of gas, and the cost of a trade (retail between $12.00 and $16.00) equals four to five gallons. Figure in the average gas mileage of your car and you’ve got about how far you can go on the cost of one book. If you must drive to work every morning then the cost of a book might be more or less the cost of commute, something your work isn’t reimbursing you for your troubles, and you have to start budgeting for that cost.

And if you have choose between driving to work where you make your income and buying a book…

Well, I have a feeling you’ll be driving to work.

Already the change in gas prices has started to affect my business. Where most of my book sales used to be in hardback and trade, I’m now selling more massmarkets (trades sales continue to oscillate to the relatively same degree as they did before). Everyday I get more and more people complaining about the cost of their book as they ring up at the register and it is harder and harder to talk them into buying a second item or a third. Around me I’ve noticed the big chains offering deeper and deeper discounts to try to lure people in and drive sales. The idea behind this is if you can get the newest Patterson at sixteen-something dollars as opposed to the original price of $24.95, you’ll be more likely to pick up another (non-discounted) item.

Then there are the sales: buy two items and get the third (least expensive) free, or buy two items and get the third at fifty percent off. Every item in the store buy four get the fifth free, anything to get you to add another item to your cart or to lure you into staying a little longer in the store considering your purchases.

Coupons from the chains? Look for them to get bigger.

Discounts? Deeper.

Traditionally summer is when people buy lots of books to read on the beach, for their kids’ summer reading list, or just to kick back and relax with during the longer day. But with gas prices being what they are, this might be reduced, traded in for more trips to the library or buying that magazine subscription instead of just getting the magazine from the local store on your lunch break.

To offset this we’ll pull out all the stops, I’m sure, discounts, sales, special offers, but the problem with being a mall-based store is that people don’t come to the mall unless they have money to burn and mall-based bookstores are often not their destination, but merely a drop-by impulse. My customers during the summer are usually the kids coming home from playing in the fountain who want to pick up the newest manga, the mothers and daughters who are shopping for the summer and school wardrobe, the fathers and brothers who want nothing to do with the shopping so they hang out in the bookstore until they are needed to haul something large. These people won’t come in if they don’t have the money.

I have a feeling that is going to be a long, dry summer with me jumping through a lot of hoops to bring customers my way.

What do you think?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Doing My Homework #8: Book Placement

Final question from the “Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering, Pinky?” thread (unless Doug was serious about his question about what would sell better fiction or memoir and it wasn’t just a jab at Frey). Eileen asked:

“How do you decide where to shelve a book (romance or general fiction?—mystery or general fiction)? How do you decide who gets front of store display? And what are your views on writers who sneak in and rearrange their books on the front table in a tragic and desperate desire to get attention?”

For most chains book placement is decided by the book buyer (I’m assuming) and that information is entered into the inventory system. Book placement can differ between chains or between off-shoots of chains. Usually this difference is most apparent with books categorized as “thrillers” or “suspense” (although I hear this is all being rectified). These books could find their way into to fiction or mystery (although more than likely these days you’ll find them in mystery). Often publishers indicate where they think the book should be placed (either on the spine or on the back), but I’ve found that sometimes this varies from bookstore placement as well. In the end final placement comes down to where the bookseller thinks the most logical location might work for the book.

As for front of store displays here, and authors who rearrange books here. Best advice would be to just go talk to your bookseller and see what they can do about moving your books for you.

News Round-Up

If you’re a mommy and a blogger, a wannabee mommy blogger, or someone who just deals with kids all day then head on over to and leave your blogger info. Amy just got the job of rounding up blogs for Club Mom, and if she likes what you have to say on the subject of Mommyhood she could send thousands of readers your way. Who knows? You could go from Mommy Blogger to Mommy Author just by getting your name out there (although I can’t believe I’m saying that because bloggers who get handed book deals just scare the hell out of me for no apparent reason).

There’s a new listserv created by Eric Selinger of DePaul University for those who like to be academic about their romance. Deep discussion, hot reads and good recommendations are sure to abound.

Diana carries on the discussion of “Bloovies? Movoks?” on her blog.

For Post Secret fans looking for something more, Found II hit stores recently (a sister book to Found Magazine and a follow-up to Found, which was published in 2004).

And if you’re in a Found mood, but looking for a little animal influence, then check out Ken Foster’s The Dogs Who Found Me. It’s been a huge hit at my store (and hard to keep in stock).

For links of a more literate nature, check out this compilation by the Written Nerd on the news of words and the words in news.